Kelley Stoltz | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Kelley Stoltz 

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In an era of MySpace pages and MP3 downloads, this San Francisco singer-songwriter landed his record deal the old-fashioned way. Stoltz's long journey to his contract with Sub Pop began with 2001's bedroom-recorded full-length Antique Glow, for which he crammed a small army of instruments and influences--the Beatles, Small Faces, Nick Drake, and Joy Division most prominently--onto his eight-track. After pressing up about a hundred vinyl copies, Stoltz passed the album on to folks like Chuck Prophet and the Dirtbombs' Ben Blackwell, who helped it get released on CD in Australia and the UK before it was ultimately issued in the States on Jackpine Social Club in 2003. Stoltz has taken his time with a follow-up--as stopgaps he's released a loyal re-creation of Echo & the Bunnymen's Crocodiles and, after Sub Pop signed him on a tip from Blackwell in 2005, an EP of originals--but on the new Below the Branches he picks up where he left off. It's another homemade affair: though a few Bay Area musicians lend a hand, Stoltz plays nearly everything on the disc. And once again he's running classic-rock elements through a postpunk filter, as on songs like "Wave Goodbye," driven by a pulsing piano and snare, or the trippy ballad "Words." In some ways the record doubles as a kind of survey of rock history circa '68 to '72--Stoltz has a taste for Beach Boys-style vocals, Lennon-esque melodies, and Ray Davies's lyrical twists. But he isn't constructing reverent pastiches so much as getting straight to the essence of his influences. It's early yet, but Below the Branches is one of the most compelling pop platters you're likely to hear this year. Stoltz will appear with a full band; Canasta and Page France open. Mon 4/3, 8 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $8 in advance, $10 at the door.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Nikki Pratchios.

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