Christopher Paul Stelling
Sounds Like: The richly layered storytelling of John Prine, the croon-to-howl hybrid vocal of Tom Waits and Glen Hansard, and an intricately finger-picked guitar style that lands somewhere between Lead Belly and Lindsey Buckingham
For Fans of: Jason Isbell, Sean Rowe, the fiery side of Bob Dylan
Why You Should Pay Attention: While many artists fancy themselves as some variation of a modern day troubadour, Christopher Paul Stelling has earned the title outright. Over the last year and a half alone, he's played almost 300 shows spread out over 46 states and 14 countries. His conversations and observations throughout that globetrotting gave birth to the grim-yet-gorgeous (and often prophetic) songs on his new album Itinerant Arias, out now on Anti- Records. The album was recorded over nine days in a locked-down log cabin with a full backing band, a decision driven by Stelling playing and traveling so much as a solo artist. "I'd been alone a lot and I needed some community around me. I needed my friends and I needed to hear something different and be inspired by it." Personnel wasn't the only change Stelling made to his sound, as he also swapped out his beloved, road-worn "Brownie" acoustic for a vintage electric. "That guitar and I have been through a lot, so it's taking a well-earned break. I played an electric for this record. I needed change and a new sound."
He Says: According to Stelling, Itinerant Arias "attempts to address the darkness in the world and hint at a solution through accepting that this is all going to pass. The record wasn't difficult to make and the songs weren't difficult to write, but getting through the traveling and tours that preceded and followed the recording was the challenge for me. It was a tiring and beautiful distraction that let the songs filter through without having to be forced into form."
Hear for Yourself: "The Cost of Doing Business" is Stelling's evocative take on the Faust legend set to a slinky finger-picked guitar and slithering violin lines. "It's about that age-old pact with devil," he says. "Given our current situation, I think America as a whole can identify." W.H.