Christopher Paul Stelling's fourth long-player, Itinerant Arias, follows a period of relentless touring on behalf of his 2015 release, Labor Against Waste. It took the singer/songwriter/guitarist to 40-some U.S. states and over a dozen countries in the span of a year-and-a-half. The follow-up is informed by both the travel and some of the sociopolitical turmoil he witnessed during that time both at home and abroad. It's fitting inspiration for a folk-spirited guitar shredder, and Itinerant Arias does put the focus on message and song over showmanship. It's also his first album to feature a steady backing band (bass, drums, and violin), resulting in a slight broadening of the spotlight. While established fans may miss the more virtuosic acoustic picking of prior albums, there's no lack of fire and flair here, as songs like "The Cost of Doing Business" and "Stranger Blues" let loose on subjects like exhaustion, troublemakers, and the Devil. On the latter tune, Stelling wails, unrestrained, against unknown forces that may or may not really be out to get him. More measured but still intense, "Sleep Baby Sleep" takes on the plight of refugees encountered first-hand in his travels ("Trapped behind razor wire/Gathered 'round bare fires/'Cause their skin ain't the same shade as mine/And it still makes me weep"). Later, "Badguys" calls out those who have been plotting "To kill off decency/Pay off the referee/And turn us once and all against our fellow man," lamenting that "darkness has taken over again." He delivers the rant in a half-spoken patter over repeated gritty electric guitar riffs that build up to an instrumental jam replete with horns. Stripping down to acoustic guitar and strings, the album closes on the more reflective and philosophical "A Tempest." It determines that the future is wide open, "Each new journey informing the next/But there's always surprises and beautiful distractions along the way." With songs steeped in protest and folklore by a performer with such an urgent presence, Itinerant Arias is a captivating listen, one with a well-earned chip on its shoulder.
AllMusic Review by Marcy Donelson