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Ken Stringfellow:: Soft Commands (Album Review)

I think Ken Stringfellow benefits from having other artists around him. The Posies. R.E.M. Big Star, for christsakes. A veritable who’s who of power pop titans from the last three decades. I loved The Posies. Smart, raucous rock-n-roll, too poppy sweet for the grunge era they inhabited. But they were, more often than not, perfect. I’ll admit I haven’t followed Mr. Stringfellows’ solo career until now, with “Soft Commands”. I wanted to love this album, to have it live in perpetual repeat on my car stereo for at least, oh, three weeks. Sadly, no. Not that this is a bad album. No, just awkward and a tad bit schizophrenic. The opening track “You Drew” stumbles, but by track two hope arrives. My God, this boy can sing. Sweet, hopeful, melancholy, even a tinge of the maudlin. And the lyrics are as smart and poetic as always. I guess maybe the musical stylings are the failing of “Soft Commands”. All the usual references are here, but something you can’t quite put your finger on makes this album uneven. And it’s not just the dub reggae instrumental that shows up three-quarters of the way through. It’s just that for every spiritual Squeeze-like “Let Me Do” or “For Your Sake” there’s a clunker like “Don’t Die”. Maybe the three years it took to write and record this album hindered the flow. Maybe Ken’s influences were in flux. I just don’t know. But as one of pop music’s most enthusiastic cheerleaders, I guess I had higher hopes. But all that aside, to produce an album of such flawed grace is no mean feat. And the moments of perfection do outweigh the mere mediocre. If you are a pop music fan do yourself a favor and check out all of Ken’s work. And it you are already a Ken fan, buy this album now and wallow in its off-kilter beauty. (Review by: L.A.M aka DJ My Little Pony)