The genre of the modern-day singer/songwriter has been in relatively weak shape for several years, with few artists (such as Matthew Ryan and Luther Russell) able to really pick up the ball and run with it. Stew (guiding light of the critically acclaimed the Negro Problem) is one of the few exceptions. Filled with kaleidoscopic originality and an iconoclastic point of view, he remains one of the finest songwriters to come out of Los Angeles in decades, and this, his sophomore solo album, underlines the fact. One of Stew's greatest strengths is not just his melodic sensibility, but his ability to use lyrics as musical phrases. The two opening cuts on the album (both heavily sprinkled with a Euro-cabaret flavor) underline this. "Single Woman" and "Giselle" are a brilliant cameos, celebrating and dissecting the images and personalities with wit, moxie, and insight, as well as a strong storytelling trait. But aside from the erudite grace of the songs and lyrics (this alone will overwhelm the listener), Stew also has remarkably powerful pop and soul influences, and these are generously strewn throughout the record. "Love Is Coming Through the Door" has an almost Gene Clark-influenced pop refinement, while "Reeling" sounds like a shotgun wedding between Abbey Road-era Beatles and Marvin Gaye.
This unique album had its basic tracks recorded live during a residency at L.A.'s Knitting Factory and then buttressed by some immaculate studio overdubs. By juxtaposing Stew's live spontaneity with some extraordinary studio audacity, the end result is a breathtaking catharsis, as well as one hell of a show for the listener. Brilliantly written, conceived, and performed, The Naked Dutch Painter and Other Songs is one of the first (and maybe finest) singer/songwriter masterpieces of the 21st century.