Shindig! Magazine, October 2023 Chris Stamey Interview (PDF)

Latest Release: The Great Escape

On his new album, The Great Escape, Chris returns to the electric guitar sounds and melodic lyricism that informed his classic '80s solo records It's Alright, Fireworks, and 2004's Travels in the South—but with a twist!

This time out, alongside adroit pedal-steel aces Eric Heywood (Jayhawks, Pretenders, Alejandro Escovedo) and Allyn Love, Mipso's Libby Rodenbough, and Chatham County Line's John Teer and Dave Wilson, he's found a distinctive spin on the '70s Southern California country-rock flavors of the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers. Soaring harmonies from Brett Harris (Big Star's Third concerts), Peter Holsapple (The dB's), and Matt McMichaels (Mayflies USA) fill out the picture on many tracks. And there's an A-team of Caitlin Cary (harmonies), Don Dixon (acoustic bass), Will Rigby (drums), and Rodenbough (fiddle and background vocals) on "(A Prisoner of This) Hopeless Love."


Other highlights include a classic-country codependency ode, "Here's How We Start Again," with John Teer's fiddle once again and with bandmate Dave Wilson's harmonies. About the Byrds-flavored "I Will Try," Stamey reports: "There are a lot of songs for weddings that make extravagant, unlikely pledges of everlasting love and perfect bliss; I wanted to write a wedding song that spoke to more the way life is."

The genesis of the record came from a 2017 tour with Alejandro Escovedo, in which Stamey was musical director and Heywood the pedal steel player. "I marveled every night at how Eric magically shaped the songs; his instincts were just spot-on. After the tour, I ended up writing a number of tunes with steel in mind, and was fortunate enough to have him add some of his alchemy to these." Chris continued down this slippery path with NC's Allyn Love, another marvelous player who "really nailed the energy of the title track, then switched gears for the sensitive dobro textures on 'Dear Friend.'"


The Great Escape
She Might Look My Way
Here's How We Start Again
I Will Try
Dear Friend
Greensboro Days
Back in New York
The Sweetheart of the Video
The Catherine's Wheel
(A Prisoner of This) Hopeless Love


The One and Only (Van Dyke Parks)
Back in New York (Electric Mix)




The Great Escape - Album Trailer
Released 7/1/23

She Might Look My Way
Released 5/25/23
Written by Alex Chiton, Tommy Hoehn

Hopeless Love
Released 6/20/23

Read More

A Conversation with Chris Stamey

Praise for The Great Escape

Bill Kopp /

Chris Stamey is an American musical treasure. Something of a local legend while growing up in Winston-Salem NC, he was even then recognized as someone special. With a background and early immersion in forms well beyond rock and roll, Stamey developed a wide-encompassing musical style that would serve him well. A contemporary, friend and musical associate of Peter Holsapple, Mitch Easter, Don Dixon and other future luminaries, he would collaborate, assist and work on his own. His work with Alex Chilton, Sneakers, The dB's, as a producer and so much more are all rightly acclaimed. In recent years Stamey has expanded his scope to include modern takes on the Great American Songbook (and/or its aesthetic) and other styles.

But for his latest album – and first since 2020's A Brand-New Shade of Blue – Stamey turns his attention back toward rock. The Great Escape is 11-plus (we'll explain that in a moment) tracks featuring Stamey on lead vocals and a variety of instruments, joined by longtime friends and associates.

There's an uncluttered production vibe to the album, one that places the focus on the lyrics, vocals and instrumental solo work. The opening title track is classic Stamey: intelligent and thoughtful lyrics, a strong chorus, a verse that adds dimension to the song, and a tasty lead guitar break. "Realize" is chiming pop, and would have fit nicely on Falling off the Sky, the (probably) final dB's album from some years ago. Stamey has an unerring sense of melody, and can instrumentally conjure/convey emotion that supports the lyrics. And subtle flourishes – unexpected chord changes and the like – make his music both immediately accessible and worthy of deep-dive listening.

Stamey's work with Alex Chilton is legendary; here he pays tribute with a reading of a song Chilton co-wrote with Tommy Hoehn, "She Might Look My Way." The arrangement is clearly modeled on the manner in which Big Star might have played it (they didn't). "Here's How We Start Again" is a lovely slice of classic country. "I Will Try" is more gently rocking pure pop with an acoustic feel. "Dear Friend" is melancholy and (here's that word again) spare, with some delightful dobro work.

There's an autobiographical character to The Great Escape; it's most evident on tracks like the mandolin-fest of "Greensboro Days" and the Brill Building-flavored "Back in New York." The subtle, piano-centric "The Sweetheart of the Video" features some of the album's most vivid lyrical imagery, and that's saying something. "The Catherine's Wheel" takes awhile to get moving, but once it does, the arrangement – especially the keening lead guitar – draws the listener in; it's easy to image this tune as an extended live performance. The album's subtlest moments come during "(A Prisoner of This) Hopeless Love." This track could serve as a bridge between Stamey's rock and, um, non-rock work.

One would expect a song about Stamey's friend and sometime musical associate Van Dyke Parks to be jaunty, quirky and playful. And "The One and Only (Van Dyke Parks)" is all of those things and more. "His witty remarks are always top-shelf," Stamey sings. (And he's right, of course. He really is. Really.) The tune is denoted as a bonus track, though why this is so isn't clear.

An electric mix of "Back in New York" is also listed as a bonus, and those who prefer the rock-leaning side of Stamey's work may prefer it to the standard version. It's the perfect way to end a delightful album.

(The streaming version of The Great Escape features yet another bonus track, an instrumental mix of the title track over which Stamey recites the album credits. Interesting, but – unlike the other bonus tracks – you probably only need to hear it once.)

Bill Bentley's Bandstand at Americana Highways:

North Carolina's finest has returned with what just might be the best album of his solo career. There is such an overshadowing of deep thoughts and even deeper life events all through THE GREAT ESCAPE that a tinge of wanting to check on Stamey's emotional condition comes to the fore. Then there are breakthroughs on certain songs that make it sound like the musician just might make it through after all. This style could be tagged Baroque & Roll on several songs, which would be an extreme compliment. And, of course, there's a mesmerizing cover of Alex Chilton and Tom Hoen's "She Might Look My Way," produced by ZZ Top-etc. auteur Terry Manning that shows a whole other side of Chris Stamey's abilities. Taken all together, the man has made what will easily be one of the best albums this year. It is so personal that it feels like the listener could be stalking Stamey through a long nostalgic walk through his former New York City life forty years ago, watching someone process a past that isn't coming back but still feels beautiful anyway. The sound of the 1980's has also returned in a truly glorious way, never to be forgotten, with band names like the dBs, the Sneakers and so many others echoing everywhere. To make sure the street creed has remained in Chris Stamey's life, he includes the bonus track "The One and Only (Van Dyke Parks) in reverend reference to a true artist of the first wave of individualism in the blown-open 1960s.

Let it roll. Americana, Roots, Country & Bluegrass:

"No exaggeration, this album is astonishingly good: dreamy country-rock-infused melodies, a deftly crafted balance between the delicate and the cathartic, contrasting light and shade, power and tenderness. The 13-track set is evidence that Chris Stamey remains as strong a writer as ever and maybe has even become a more accomplished one. His carefully crafted lyrics are wrapped around expansive melodic arrangements, lushly layered guitars and ethereal vocal harmonies, maintaining a sense of musical familiarity while still pushing his sound forward. A unique and well-constructed album, which fuses the best of country-rock sentiment, folk-rock beauty and even hints of psychedelia, it's a potent concoction of 1960s-inspired tunes that harken back to the early days of flower power and the jangly Americana rock'n'roll of bands like Buffalo Springfield and the Byrds. If your old Flying Burrito Brothers' records have lost their thrill, this new CD may be a solid successor. . . . Twangy Americana instrumentation mixes with washes of delicate harmonies and soaring pedal steel imitating the sunburnt Southern California landscape where this style of music came of age. . . . [This] is an impressive body of work that upholds the finest harmony-laden country-rock tradition.

Brooklyn Vegan:

"The Great Escape is another winning collection. There's also a little late-'60s sunshine pop in songs like "Realize" that could've been performed by The Turtles or The Association, while a twangy breeze also runs through much of the album thanks to ace pedal steel players Eric Heywood and Allyn Love. These songs sound like a summation of everything he's done to date. . . . This escape may be great, but there's no outrunning your past and Stamey has in turn chosen to embrace it."

No Depression Magazine:

Renowned North Carolina producer and songwriter Chris Stamey has devoted a good chunk of the past dozen years to star-studded concerts featuring the music of Big Star, the fabled 1970s Memphis band fronted by Stamey's late friend and onetime bandmate Alex Chilton. As such, it's no surprise to see the hidden pop gem "She Might Look My Way," a song Chilton co-wrote with fellow Memphis musician Tommy Hoehn, turn up on The Great Escape, Stamey's fifth album since 2013. . . . Its presence here informs other parts of The Great Escape: The effervescent pop of "Realize" and the rich harmonies on "I Will Try" sound as if they're cut from the same cloth.

Those songs are just one facet of The Great Escape . . . The more acoustic-oriented tracks . . . are more contemplative. They come across as new American standards, especially "Dear Friend," a simple but moving expression of empathy for a troubled compadre that's universally relatable.

But the real treasure is a trio of mid-album tunes that might be described as personal geographic history. "Greensboro Days" is a masterfully moody evocation of Stamey's wide-eyed younger days in the North Carolina's Piedmont Triad, right up to those heady mid-'70s days when he moved to the Big Apple. "Back in New York" picks up the story from there, spurred by revisiting the city that filled his heart with big ideas and indelible experiences. (It's where he first started playing with Chilton, which helps bring The Great Escape full-circle.)

Wrapping the triptych is "The Sweetheart of the Video," a richly detailed recollection of glimpsing a gone-but-not-forgotten crush on a video screen in a Minneapolis store window. It's among the half-dozen best songs Stamey has ever written &emdash; but is it fiction, or autobiography? I'd guess the latter, though its careful ambiguity leaves us guessing just who the sweetheart might have been.

Glide Magazine:

As The Great Escape progresses, Chris Stamey conjures a persona that radiates an admirable self-awareness. Take "The Sweetheart of the Video," for instance, where the distinction between illusion and reality, past and present, couldn't be more clear. . . . The most distinctive factor of this music, however, is the dulcet harmony singing, the carefully-honed likes of which grace the title song, to name just one. The chiming electric guitars on "Realize" sound altogether familiar in this context too, evoking iconic bands like the Byrds and the Beatles, so much so the buoyancy of the performance rises ever higher during successive verses and solos.

Michael Doherty's Music Log:

Last month saw the release of Life, an album by The Salt Collective, a band that features Chris Stamey, along with his fellow bandmates from The dB's. And now we're being treated to a new Chris Stamey album, The Great Escape. Are we getting spoiled by so much good music? Maybe. . . .

The album opens with its title track, "The Great Escape," which has a bright, rather cheerful vibe, even including hand claps. A line like "Oh, here we go," while being simple, has such a positive ring to it. It seems to promise a new beginning, or at least the possibility of it. And isn't it what you say at the start of an adventure? This is a good song to take along with you on a road trip, and it features some wonderful work on guitar, especially that lead in the middle. "Daylight is three hours away/Hold tight, like wheels on a blue highway." . . . "The Great Escape" is followed by "Realize." In this one, Chris Stamey sings, "It's so easy loving you/And it's all I want to do anymore." Those lines ring true to me. With the craziness of the world, there are times when I just want to say the hell with everything except my sweet girlfriend. Don't you just want to focus on love? It's the only thing that really makes sense. And this is a love song, delivered in earnest by Chris Stamey. "But when I'm in your arms, the world's so far away." Exactly.

"She Might Look My Way" is the song written by Alex Chilton and Tommy Hoehn, one that Alex Chilton used to play in the late 1970s. . . . Chris Stamey delivers a wonderful rendition of it here. "I was prepared to go all the way with this thing/Really commit myself/Really submit myself." It has a rather sweet pop vibe, at times feeling like it is at the edge of becoming a rock song, like when he sings, "'Cause I need something I can use/And I don't want to fight and lose."

Then "Here's How We Start Again" is a gentle and pretty number, with both strings and steel guitar. Yes, it has some country elements, but also a bit of an early 1960s pop flavor, in the rhythm of the vocal line. These are the opening lines: "Here's how we start again/You tell me a lie/I say I'll believe in you/Until the day I die." This track features a really nice vocal performance, with some wonderful harmonies, and is one of my favorites.

"I Will Try" is a sweet pop number that begins with Chris Stamey singing, "I will try, I will try." Ah, what more can we ask of someone? . . ."Dear Friend" has a softer, more intimate feel, and the opening lines brought tears to my eyes: "Dear friend, I know you're sad/You feel like giving up/Dear friend, I know that times are bad/You feel like giving up/But it doesn't have to be so hard." He repeats that line, "It doesn't have to be so hard," because when things are rough it takes a lot for that message to sink in. Sometimes we just need to hear that someone is there for us, and this song provides that voice.

"Greensboro Days" is another of the album's strongest tracks, featuring an excellent vocal performance and a cool vibe from its start. And I love the way it builds. "I should have written you a letter/I should have tried to make some sense of it/But nothing could make this better/No excuses or sentiment." There is more great stuff on strings. And check out that guitar work during the instrumental section in the second half. I also love that mandolin. This is one hell of a good song. It ends with the line, "And I am New York bound," and is followed, appropriately, by "Back To New York." This one has a somewhat jazzy aspect at the beginning, and also a bit of the feel of a show tune. This song about New York contains references to Bob Dylan ("jingle jangle morning"), Dave Van Ronk and Jack Kerouac.

Interestingly, Chris Stamey goes from New York to Minneapolis, sort of the opposite of Dylan's trajectory, with "The Sweetheart Of The Video," a song with a more somber vibe, featuring some moving work on strings. "And for a moment there/She looks straight at me/The sweetheart of the video/Now just a memory." And the music has the feel of memory. "The darkness wrapped its arms around her tight/And carried her away."

Robert Baird, QoBuz:

Chris Stamey's a songwriting connoisseur. In recent years this co-founder of the dB's, the influential '80s power pop band, has been paying tribute to classic pop song history and making a virtue of musical nostalgia. His last two solo albums, New Songs for the 20th Century (2019) and A Brand-New Shade of Blue (2020) successfully revived the kind of direct and unabashedly romantic pop songwriting that preceded rock and roll—without being boring or trite. The Great Escape, on the other hand, is a collection filled with the kind of indie rock the singer-songwriter has been making since the late 1970s.

It opens with the one-two punch of the sunny, easy-to-like guitar pop of the title track and the even better "Realize." Both are reasonable facsimiles of the deep tracks that make the original pair of dB's albums so special. A welcome artifact is an earnest revival of the unknown Alex Chilton/Tommy Hoehn tune "She Might Look My Way," featuring engineering and producing legend Mitch Easter on drums and Terry Manning of Stax/Ardent Studios fame on guitar, bass, vocals, and mellotron flutes. Later, Stamey evokes the Byrds with the happy rhythms, massed voices, and nimble pedal steel of his wedding song, "I Will Try" as well as the rolling lilt and obvious title reference of "The Sweetheart of the Video." His autobiographical "Greensboro Days" harks back to '60s "California Dreamin'"-styled sunshine pop. Led by the pedal steel of Eric Heywood and the lap steel and dobro of Allyn Love, there's also a slight country shade to some of the songs. This includes the majestic and mournful ballad, "(A Prisoner of This) Hopeless Love," where fiddle accompanies lines like "jealousy and a wandering eye will tear your love apart" which force the undone narrator to concede he's "just a prisoner of this hopeless love, until my day is done." The mood swings the other way in the bubbly and sentimental "Back In New York." A nod to Stamey's continuing fascination with Tin Pan Alley that appears in both acoustic and electric versions, it's a fairy tale love song to Gotham where "the subways sing a lullaby" and where he wants to revel in a "jingle jangle morning where Dave Van Ronk would sing, where Trane played 'E-pis-tro-phy.'" A romantic versed in many genres, Chris Stamey continues to make the case that illuminating songwriting never goes out of style.


You can't mess with or top Chris Stamey. Come on, he was in The Sneakers and the dB's. Probably heard/heard of Big Star way before you, heck he played with Chilton for a while when he got to NYC and he released a Chris Bell 7" when no one else wanted to. He's pals with Mitch Easter and the guys in REM and is a published author (I really enjoyed his book). So yeah, he guys resume' is a mile long. He's a lifer musician who is still at it and deserves the utmost respect.

This new record? It's really good. The songs just come and flow and if there is any filler on here I haven't heard it. The first few songs, the opening title track and the even better "Realize" both add some twang to the tunes (at least partially due to pedal steel player Eric Heywood) while by song three he tackles an old Alex Chilton song on "She Might Look My Way" done most beautifully. Elsewhere, the more spare "I Will Try" is among the best cuts on here as is the countrified "Dear Friend" (where he gets some help from folks in Chatham County Line) and don't miss the terrific "Back in New York" which points wistful eyes toward his favorite of cities (and that song is offered here in both acoustic and electric versions).

If you haven't heard him ever or it's been a really long time then give this record a shot. It's real easy to like (probably a lot like Chris himself though I have never met him).

Ok, sermon (or soapbox rant) over.

Praise for New Songs for the 20th Century:

'New Songs for the 20th Century' is an amazing album. The songs astound, as if lifted out of a time machine; to highlight some songs and not others is almost criminal. Those familiar with the Great American Songbook will likely be enthralled by this rich collection. Backed by the Mod Rec Orchestra, many great musicians bring Stamey's new songs to life. The beautiful and luxurious "I Don't Believe in Romance" features singer Caitlin Cary and has the magic of a Burt Bacharach classic; the wistful "What is This Music that I Hear?" and "On an Evening Such as This" are both bolstered by singer Kirsten Lambert's affecting vocals. The jazzy "There's Not a Cloud in the Sky" and more contemporary "I Am Yours" are among the memorable tracks on disc one. The jazzy "Beneath the Underdog" (featuring Marshall Crenshaw, Don Dixon and Django Haskins), the beautiful "In Spanish Harlem," and nuanced "Lover, Can You Hear Me?" bring equal power to the second disc.' — Robert Kinsler, Rock 'N' Roll Truth (blog)

'Musicians from Rod Stewart to Bob Dylan have turned to the Great American Songbook to revive their creative juices. But Chris Stamey has taken a different approach. Instead of singing other people's compositions, he's rearranged a handful of old songs and written a raft of new ones that are akin to material for a 1958 recording session by Frank Sinatra or Ella Fitzgerald.'— Geoffrey Himes review, Downbeat Magazine, September, 2019

'This is a prodigious project that asks for real attention. Fortunately, the gift of this music pays off in timeless beauty and unlimited inspiration. It's like the past has been reinvigorated by the present, with nothing lost and everything gained.' — Bill Bentley review, Americana Highways, July 10, 2019

'"Insomnia" perfectly exemplifies the full album's intelligence and exuberance for rich harmonic environments and material unencumbered by compositional excess. Not a note is wasted.' — Pop Matters, May 16, 2019

"It's terrific: he has penned a batch of beautiful lyrics and melodies, and the performances here are uniformly fine. [Stamey has] rounded up a large group of talented players for his project, including dBs cofounder Peter Holsapple, Wilco guitarist Nels Cline, Marshall Crenshaw, and Branford Marsalis, to name a few.' — Americana Highways (blog), June10, 2019

'This is a sprawling, brilliant piece of work: 26 songs across two CDs, and each one is a masterpiece. And, even better, there are unmistakable Chris Stamey footprints throughout. . . . I'm not sure how old someone has to get before you can't call him a "Boy Genius" anymore, but at least I know now that it's post-60.' — Mike Fornatale, Shindig, July 8, 2019.

'Stamey does an amazing job matching the songs to the singers . . . the velvet voice of Django Haskins singing the swinging sound of "Manhattan Melody (That's My New York)" and the sweeping ballad "It's Been A While" . . . Kristen Lambert performing the lush ballads "What Is This Music That I Hear?" and "On An Evening Such As This" . . . Millie McGuire's stellar vocals grace the jazzy ballad "I Fall In Love So Easily" and the gentle flow of "Pretty Butterfly" . . . Marshall Crenshaw, Don Dixon and Django Haskins for the upbeat, gospel-like New Orleans-style jazz of "Beneath The Underdog.' — JP's Music Blog

'...thrilling, evocative' — John Platt, WFUV New Folk Initiative, writing about "Manhattan Melody"

'JazzTimes is honored to present the premiere of the video for "Manhattan Melody (That's My New York)" by Chris Stamey and the ModRec Orchestra. . . . [B]oth the song and the album aren't quite what you'd expect based on his resume' — the influence of the Great American Songbook is strong, and the overall sound is much closer to jazz than rock. It doesn't hurt that Stamey brought in some ringers here: Branford Marsalis on tenor sax, Matt Douglas on clarinet, Jim Crew (along with Stamey himself) on piano, Jason Foureman on bass, and Dan Davis on drums. Django Haskins is the vocalist, one of more than a dozen singers who alternate tracks throughout the album, including Nnenna Freelon, Ariel Pocock, and power-pop maestro Marshall Crenshaw.' — Jazz Times, June 28, 2019

'This is a stunning project that will capture the attention of listeners from several genres and from those who bestow awards for such projects.' — Glide Magazine, June 26, 2019

'Bravo to Stamey, and hopefully these songs will find their way into live performances and recording sessions by other artists and in some ways become part of a New American Songbook.' — Robert Baird, 20th Century Globe, July 10, 2019

'Stamey, with a terrific cast of musicians including folks like Branford Marsalis, Bill Frisell, Nels Cline, Caitlin Cary and many others, doing the Tin Pan Alley type of tunes with really stunning results. On Disc One a few songs that really grabbed me were "Occasional Shivers" (sung by the lovely NNenna Freelon) and the gorgeous "Your Last Forever After" (sung by the great Caitlin Cary who really soars here). On Disc Two, "Beneath the Underdog" (which Marshall Crenshaw and Don Dixon both appear) really kicks it into gear while "In Spanish Harlem" evokes a late night walk on a summer evening. Oh, and do not miss the terrific "I Didn't Mean to Fall in Love With You" (sung by the very talented Kirsten Lambert who is all over this record). . . . Stamey and his crew really put their best foot forward here and they really do nail it, all subtlety and no bombast. The songs were inspired by a different era but they bring it completely up to date  and truly deliver a moving batch of songs.' — Dagger Zine (blog), July 18, 2019