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Columns > Mike Gruenberg - In My Life

Published: 2007/08/22
by Mike Gruenberg

Chris Stills

In My Life
Roslyn Kind, Mike McGear, Frank Stallone, Simon Townshend and Chris Jagger all have one thing in common. They are siblings of famous people. In their own minds, I suspect that each one of them at one time may have wondered to themselves why their fame had not come as swiftly as their famous brothers or sisters. While Roslyn watched her sister Barbara Streisand gain international stardom with her voice, she must have thought that she too had superior vocal talent. Frank Stallone, a talented singer, dancer and actor has appeared in a number of films and recordings, but never achieved the fame of brother Sly. And although Chris Jagger, brother of Mick and Simon brother of Pete, have released record albums none of their recorded offerings have sold very well. Only Mike McGear, Paul McCartneys brother can claim hit records when he played with the British comedic group, The Scaffold in England. Thank U Very Much and Lily The Pink are among those tunes that received airplay outside of the U.K.
Sons and daughters of famous performers seem to fare even worse than their famous uncles and aunts. The person who seems to have broken this mold has been Ben Stiller, son of the comedic duo of Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara. Although his parents were successful in their day, Ben has clearly ascended to superstardom eclipsing his parents. However, this type of success is hardly the norm. Most children of celebrity entertainers who decide to pursue a career in show business live in the shadows of their famous parents. They perform, but somehow never gain the notoriety that they lived with growing up in a house of a star.
Most children of celebrities find success difficult to achieve, Frank Sinatra Jr. had to live in his fathers shadow although his voice can be described as better than most. His sister, Nancy had a huge hit with her These Boots Were Made for Walkin hit in the 60s, but superstardom has eluded her as well. Julian Lennon, perhaps had the most success as the child of John with his magnificent Valotte album, but he too has faded from the charts. Sadly, his stepbrother Sean still is trying to find the right ingredients to gain musical notoriety as he continues to release albums that have not sold very well.
It was therefore with a bit of a skeptical eye when I came across an album by Chris Stills, son of one my favorites, Stephen Stills. The album, a recent release on the V2 label is called When the Pain Dies Down; Live in Paris. On the strength of the fact that he is the son of Stephen was the sole rationale for taking this album home.

As it turns out, Chris is the son of Stephen and his French wife, Veronique Sanson. In her own right, Veronique is a popular musician in France. After his parents were divorced, Chris and his mother moved back to France. She taught him to play piano and at age 12 he learned how to play the guitar. Being the son of a famous musician has some very cool perks. In 1993, after graduating form high school, Chris moved back to Los Angeles and became a roadie for his dad. While living in both the U.S. and France and being influenced musically by both his parents, Chris developed into a very compelling artist mixing folk, blues and rock. When the Pain Dies Down was recorded as a live EP in Paris at the Studio du Palais. This is the first time you can hear Chris singing in both English and French.
The opening tune, the title track When the Pain Dies Down showcases Chris voice and writing abilities. The simplicity of the arrangement with Chris on vocals and keyboards accompanied by drummer, Christophe Ganzede and bassist David Demers is both haunting and beautiful. Inevitably one will try to categorize his vocal style by looking for elements of his famous parents but he has developed his own unique style with a hint of Jeff Buckley in his falsettos. His voice is a smooth, listenable and very understandable encompassing a style that is easy to take. This live recording perfectly showcases Chris innate talent as he shifts effortlessly from guitar to keyboards as he sings his compositions. Demon the third cut on the EP is sung in French and since I have limited comprehension of the language, it is difficult for me to assess the lyrics. No lyrics were included in the package. The crowd seems somewhat impassive, but I dont know if thats just a French thing or that they were just unmoved by the performance.
Of the seven songs on the EP, four are written by Chris. All of them are pleasant and melodic. Of the three remaining tunes, they are sung in French. The most unique and I think the high point of the album is Fanny which is written by Robbie Robertson and originally performed by The Band. The lyrics have been translated from English to French. Chris does a great job on this number. The vocals and harmonies are tight and even though its sung in French, nothing is lost in the translation.
All in all, this album is a nice listen. It is pleasant, easy on the ears, but not inspiring. It does give us a glimpse into the future of an up and coming composer and performer. I am looking forward to next album from Chris with a full complement of songs, studio produced with a band of more than two other guys.
Chris is currently on tour. His schedule is listed below.
Aug 23 2007 8:00P House of Blues Los Angeles, California Aug 24 2007 7:00P House of Blues Anaheim, California Aug 25 2007 7:30PM 4th and B San Diego, California Sep 13 2007 6:30P Keswick Theatre Glenside, Pennsylvania Sep 14 2007 8:00P Borgata Atlantic City, New Jersey Sep 15 2007 7:30P Irving Plaza New York, New York Sep 16 2007 6:30P Berklee Theatre Boston, Massachusetts Sep 18 2007 8:00PM Sawyer Theatre @ The Egg Albany, New York Sep 19 2007 7:00P Webster Theatre Hartford, Connecticut
Sep 21 2007 7:00PM Palace Theatre Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Sep 22 2007 7:00P Danforth Toronto, Quebec Sep 23 2007 7:30P House of Blues Cleveland, Ohio Sep 25 2007 6:30PM St. Andrews Hall Detroit, Michigan
Sep 26 2007 6:30P Park West Chicago, Illinois
Sep 27 2007 5:00P Fine Line Minneapolis, Minnesota Oct 2 2007 8:00P Sokol Auditorium Omaha, Nebraska Oct 3 2007 8:00PM Gothic Theatre Denver, Colorado Oct 5 2007 8:00PM Marquee Theatre Phoenix, Arizona Oct 6 2007 8:00P House of Blues Las Vegas, Nevada Oct 8 2007 8:00PM Depot Salt Lake City, Nevada

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