When you talk about Christopher Paul Stelling, it’s hard to omit the more empassioned adjectives at your disposal, and you wouldn’t be wrong to use them. The New York based songwriter is a lot closer to fanatical street poet than candlelit cafe reveler on the musical spectrum. That is not to say that Stelling lacks an emotional and introspective side; in fact, when he introduces little moments of quiet revelation into a song, its juxtaposion next to a fiery verse is extremely effective in conveying his lyrical content as well as his artfulness as a performer. It’s true – while he certainly could howl, growl, and yowl until the cows come home, and his fingerpicking speed on the nylon stringed guitar could rival some masters of Scruggs style banjo playing (mesmerizing to watch), it is his well-timed restraint that is arresting. In our session, I feel chills when Stelling switches from fervid chorus to a soulful verse, harmonizing with Julia Christgau, on the spiritual-tinged devotional “Who I Am.” There are many chances to feel this way listening and watching Stelling. But when he needs to, like on “Brick x Brick,” CPS can really kick some ass and soon leads you in the protest “Brick by brick, I’ll tear this whole city down…!” Stelling is definitely carrying that true American folk singer torch (and using it to burn things down) that was prominent in the revival of the ’60s, but has been relegated to the sidelines since, in favor of more personal, diary-like musical entries. I think Christopher Paul Stelling proves that you can combine personal song, polemic, and passionate plea in one song to great effect.
Christopher recently released his second full-length record False Cities. He will appear live on Gene Shay’s Folk Show on WXPN on Sunday, 9/15 and will be performing at Maysie’s Farm Fest in Glenville, PA on 9/21.