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Published: 2012/03/07
by Sam Robertson

Christopher Paul Stelling
Songs Of Praise And Scorn

Mecca Lecca Recording Co.

Though I listen to as much new music as I can, rarely do I stumble across a brand new artist who captures my rapt attention within seconds. Yet those magical albums do come along every once in awhile and Christopher Paul Stelling’s Songs Of Praise And Scorn is that special debut with the power to transfix the listener from its very first notes. With expertly picked acoustic melodies and gorgeous, howling vocals, Stelling’s songs are immediately captivating.

Though Songs Of Praise And Scorn finds Stelling accompanied only by occasional fiddle and sparse drums in addition to his acoustic guitar, it feels limiting to call him a folksinger. His singing and songwriting is unquestionably at the heart of the album, but he is also a tremendously talented guitarist. A gently picked flowing riff on album opener “Mourning Train To Memphis” is joined by Stelling’s equally raspy and tender voice and soothing fiddle. Proving he can’t quite be pegged down by the folksinger moniker, the song gathers steam as it rolls along and closes with Stelling’s voice energetically ringing out the chorus.

For a quiet, acoustic album, Songs Of Praise And Scorn features quite a bit of lively, wailing vocals. “Never Been There” is a punk rock classic without a band, as Stelling’s raucous guitar strumming is matched in energy by his impassioned vocals. “Strange Darkness,” the most stunningly moving moment on the album, finds Stelling’s voice ranging from a whisper to a deafening howl. He pleads “Be careful, please be gentle with me/Swear I’m not a bad person no, just got a strange darkness livin’ in me,” in a tortured roar that could only be compared to John Lennon’s primal scream therapy-inspired solo masterpiece Plastic Ono Band.

Stelling’s voice is so unique and soulful that the displays of raw wailing on “Strange Darkness” and “Never Been There” are rivaled in intensity by quiet ballads “King Is Dead” and “Little Broken Birds,” as his whispered vocals and whistling have their own kind of power. With a voice like that over a guitar style reminiscent of Bert Jansch and Nick Drake with a touch of John Fahey’s rustic Americana thrown in, Christopher Paul Stelling is well on his way to becoming the next great folksinger.

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