As night follows day, here at The Sleeping Shaman another instalment (the ninth) in Anti-Corp‘s fantastic The Magnolia Sessions series has landed, and it is my pleasure to review it. This time we have Austin Stambaugh who originates from Northeastern Ohio but who has since relocated to Nashville (Tennessee) and toured with prominent names such as Joe Ely, Kinky Friedman and Malcolm Holcombe.
Prior to The Magnolia Sessions he had released 2020’s Fool Talkin, Live at Beachland Tavern and 2019’s full-length debut Where She Will Go. From my observation none of the tracks feature elsewhere, thus providing the listener a fresh batch of tunes to get their teeth into and according to Austin, ‘These songs to me have a yearn like old hymns, they are ideas that offer insight on the perspective of oneself and limitations. They are about existential fear and self-accountability’.
God Please Save My Soul has an almost Gospel feel not far removed from Leadbelly. This desire for a connection with humankind is highlighted by Austin who tells us that ‘I also wanted to put some good in the world and encourage people’. During a time where we are seemingly lurching from one disaster to another this is a much needed sentiment. Do Your Best With What You Have Now is a lesson we could all do with heeding and reminds me a little of the idealistic optimism of the late 60s/early 70s as imbued by the likes of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (ala Teach Your Children).
My Fear Of God was previewed on The Shaman and is one of the darker numbers on the record reflecting the fear of ‘reaching out your hand to feel God, and snatching nothing.’ Obviously, the theme wouldn’t trouble your average atheist but may prove distressing for those with any kind of spiritual inclination. Its yearning desperate pleas are the polar inverse of Bob Dylan’s ‘Christian’ conversion phase, however there is a real beauty present despite its sombre tone.
there is a real emotional, spiritual and lyrical depth which never threatens to cross over into cheap overwrought sentimentality…
The album’s halfway point is marked by Every Bit Of Your Luck which continues the downbeat feel of its predecessor. I Still Wonder has its roots firmly planted in the blues and some of the instrumental work is simply incredible, especially the soloing. The track reminded me of Skip James’ Devil Got My Woman which I remember first hearing on the movie Ghost World. Only One Can Do has more of a country swing and conjures images of dusty desert plains and blazing sun, which seeing as Austin has toured with the aforementioned Joe Ely is hardly surprising.
With Your Help is something of a tough listen, evoking emotions for me that I try to keep suppressed for reasons of maintaining my sanity. Although it is open to interpretation, one could infer from the lyrics ‘won’t you melt my frozen heart, for its so sad since we’ve been apart’ that it could be a reference to the almighty, however I personally took it to be a paean to long lost love. The delicious ambiguity makes it my favourite track on the album by far. Come On And Look At What You’ve Done despite its lyrical content concludes proceedings on a surprisingly upbeat note.
Dan Emery states that Austin‘writes in a very fluid way that also forces you to think about what he’s saying’ and there is a real emotional, spiritual and lyrical depth which never threatens to cross over into cheap overwrought sentimentality; unlike the legions of somewhat dismal and dreary Lancaster (UK) based singer-songwriters I’ve had to endure throughout the years.
Scribed by: Reza Mills