Christopher Paul Stelling

Best of Luck

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The fifth studio album from songwriter and skilled fingerpicker Christopher Paul Stelling, Best of Luck reflects a few changes in approach for the musician. Following years of near constant touring, Stelling stayed put for (effectively) the first time since his 2012 debut, putting down roots in Asheville, North Carolina and taking up a residency at the Stetson Kennedy estate in Florida while he worked on writing the album. It's his first with an outside producer, none other than Ben Harper, who expressed interest in working with Stelling after they toured together. Harper has stressed Stelling's soulful vocals as an underrated part of his charismatic style, one that fuses folk, blues, and more with his intricate playing and impassioned lyrics. Slightly smoothing out rough edges, both in terms of sound and frame of mind, Best of Luck is Stelling's most optimistic set to date, especially compared to its predecessor, the protest-fueled Itinerant Arias. He sounds calm and confident on the gratitude-filled "Lucky Stars," a sauntering ballad that features Harper on slide guitar and Hammond B-3, and Stelling's partner, Julia Christgau, on backing vocals. Here, even the decisively titled "Made Up Your Mind" offers the possibility of reevaluation. A similarly older and wiser version of Stelling appears on tracks like "Have to Do for Now" and "Something in Return," the latter a lesson in humility that offers an upside: "Praying for the patience for the trust we have to earn/If you give a little something you get something in return." An exception to the collection's generally even-keeled tone is "Hear Me Calling," a fiery rock tune with crashing cymbals and full-throated self-awareness. Joining Stelling on most of the tracks are bassist Mike Valerio (Neil Young, Randy Newman) and drummer Jimmy Paxson (Stevie Nicks, Ben Harper), who deliver deft accompaniment to a stylistically varied set that also includes the solo instrumental "Blue Bed," which shines a spotlight on the guitarist's rhythmic, harmonic, and technical skills on his instrument. However, the focus of Best of Luck is spirit over proficiency, and it closes on a guitar-free piano lullaby "Goodnight Sweet Dreams," a note of calm reassurance that looks forward to what's to come.

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