A founding leader of the influential cult band the dB's, Chris Stamey has spent most of last 15 years producing other people's discs (Alejandro Escovedo, Yo La Tengo, Whiskeytown) rather than creating his own. Not counting a 1995 instrumental album, Travels in the South marks his first record since 1991, when he released both the solo Fireworks and Mavericks, a duet disc with his old dB's partner Peter Holsapple. South, however, shows little sign of rustiness. The album kicks off with the glorious "14 Shades of Green," a chimey gem that takes a nostalgic look at a hometown. This leadoff track also establishes the theme of traveling that runs through the disc. Songs like "Insomnia," "Ride," and the title track all touch upon the feeling of life in transit. The sublime "In Spanish Harlem" takes a Paul Simon-esque look at New York City but with a decidedly eased-back Southern tempo. The entire album, in fact, rides along at a leisurely pace, with the majority of songs surpassing the four-minute mark. But Stamey uses his production savvy to build these songs into "mid-life symphonies," to make Brian Wilson's phrase more age-appropriate. A solitary piano and mournful pedal steel help to accentuate the longing in "Insomnia." A Byrds-ian guitar riff weaves through "Alive" and heavenly Beach Boys harmonies swell in "Kierkegaard." "And I Love Her," a prototypical Stamey love ballad, deftly blends '50s pop with the Beatles. It all results in a lovely, shimmery sound that won't disappoint fans of melodic rock music. Travels in the South reveals that Stamey remains ever the pop craftsman. Hopefully, he won't wait as long to craft his next disc.
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AllMusic Review by Michael Berick