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Non-Prog CD Reviews

Michael Stanley

The Hang

Review by Larry Toering

Michael Stanley whips out another release after last year’s excellent Just Another Night. This one is a notch lower in tempo, falling into a more blues sort of feeling. All of the songs are up to the usual standard either way, as it's really more like a mature counterpart to the previous one. Everything that is to be expected from Stanley and company can be found on offer here, with occasional searing guitar and very well backed vocals from Jennifer Lee. If Stanley has outdone himself, I can't say yet, but a grand effort is certainly evident on The Hang.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2012  Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
From Somewhere Else
This is a fairly mellow opener with a strong folk element. It paces along just right as Stanley plays with the title. There’s not a lot of resemblance to Springsteen here. All in all this is a feelgood number to start things off.
The Last Great Illusion
Right away the Springsteen tone and approach make no secret of their presence, but this is an excellent Stanley tune either way. I like this much better than the previous track, in fact it's classic MS music. It’s very well delivered and captured in the pocket, and nicely backed by the band.
How Many Guitars Do You Need
This falls firmly into the soft rock groove with some lovely female backing vocals provided by Lee, which keeps the humor of the title from getting too funny. Excellent guitar is all over this one, but then that is what it's about. It’s overall a stronger tune than the previous two. I get an almost Al Stewart guitar vibe toward the end which is a nice touch.
Breaking Down
This gets a lot more into the familiar old Stanley groove I like so much, as this is a track that would fit on his last release or most any for that matter. So far this is the best vibe on offer. Lee really helps this one along nicely with backing vocals, as well.
When It Don't Come Easy
This has much more of a storytelling approach than the previous tunes did, and the Springsteen factor once again cannot be denied. I have never found that to be anything but a good thing, because after all these years one could say they're almost peers of the same era and genre. I really like this tune very much. In fact, even if it does resemble the Boss and other Stanley songs, it still has something all its own that drives it.
Fait Accompli
A piano leads this track into a brooding ballad that gets stronger at mid point as Lee comes alive and  evens everything out with her soothing voice. This is nearly as good as the previous track, if  just a bit less inspired. But the well placed piano helps it stand apart.
A Damn Fine Way To Go
Now this is where the real storytelling starts to happen, with a strong narrative feel. It contains sections of spoken word that really resemble Chris Rea, and then a killer biting electric guitar solo proceeds to tear it up and deliver the standard MS quality. This is another highlight with Lee once again helping enhance everything.
Wonder Wheel
This is more of a ballad with the usual Stanley charm. It finds him reciting a line from the Eagles (Joe Walsh) classic “In The City,” which adds one of its selling points, but otherwise it's somewhere between the previous two tracks. There is just no putting anything down by now, as you start to feel he's made a fine consecutive effort on this release.
Down In The Suck
Picking up the pace a bit, this has some more excellent guitar work but it's difficult to tell between three guitarists exactly who's pulling lead duties on what tracks. Either way there are some inspired moments throughout the disc concerning that instrument. This is just another tune on par with the rest.
Back In The Day
This has a cracking snare to start it off, which keeps up a good pace for the speed of things so far. It's not hard to guess by the title that it's about looking back to find answers and get things right.
Martha
Taking things down a notch in tempo, this one is likely one of the slower and harder to get into numbers. Still, all is not lost because once again Stanley pulls off a fine vocal that saves it from complete disinterest. The Springsteen vibe comes on stronger here than anywhere else on the disc, and the string arrangement is brilliantly delivered.
Romeo & Juliet
This is an interesting take that follows the traditional story with a different angle, as the lyrics toy with another story prospect. Light and fluffy, but inspired nevertheless, this is just another really good tune of the slower variety. Nice underlying organ and piano parts are utilized to bring out the most beauty from it.
Another New Years Eve
I find these to be the best lyrics on the disc, and the backing track perfect for it. It’s got more great stuff by the ton, if still on the slow side. This is classy and bluesy, as well.
The Hang
Saving the title track for last is an idea I don't recall anyone doing in years. It was a good turn here because the momentum can usually die down somewhere and the disc end off balance that way. Having the last song be not the least song always works for me, especially because it goes back into track one seamlessly. I still don't think the is the best song on offer, but it's of the top shelf quality to be found on the entire release.
 
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