Stephen Warwick – Talking Machine

January 01, 1970



Some might say that taking five years to record an album is
folly. Of course, if you’re a perfectionist, five years might seem an
uncommonly generous work schedule. And anyway, perfectionism bows to no
calendar save that of budget constraints; the indie milieu, thanks to
GarageBand and the like, has largely freed itself from such niggling financial
issues. Meet Stephen Warwick, a Charlotte, NC, musician – let’s don’t use the
clichéd “singer-songwriter” tag, because this guy’s light years beyond the
cream-in-my-coffee brand of tunesmithery – who diligently goes about the
process of making music, then revising it, then revising it a little more, and
then still some more, until he is absolutely, positively, 100% certain he’ll
still be proud of it 10, 20, 30 years from now.


Methinks he will. By way of general description, Warwick marries lo-fi alterna-folk
to expansive, subtly orchestral pop, minus the rustic elements of the former
and the gilded edges of the latter, in a manner not unlike classic Beck. He’s
as likely to slip into an off-the-cuff bluesy moment as casting elegant melodic
hooks to the wind, and for my money the naturalness with which he does so additionally
puts him on a contemporary footing comparable to Bon Iver. For those with even
longer memories, what really catches you offguard is the way he recalls the
late, great Skip Spence both vocally and musically; play a track like “Talking
Machine,” a strummy, midtempo number with doubletracked vocals, or the low-key
slide-guit boogie of “Unmade Bed” and be transported to the land of Spence and
echoes of such shambling classics as “Little Hands” and “All Come to Meet Her.”
Talking Machine carries that same
sense of unearthing an out-of-the-blue gem that Spence’s Oar did that all those years ago.


But even though Warwick seems to have feet planted in
several eras all at once – literally, as a good deal of his subject matter
details in both veiled and direct manner his appreciation for/obsession with
images from the Depression period – he’s also intensely focused in his manner
of presentation. That’s a by-product of his above-mentioned perfectionist
streak, no doubt, although it’s remarkable that a product so fussed-over comes
across so spontaneous and organic. The 11 songs here flow naturally from one
mood to the next, like when the lush, mandolin/guitars climax of “Evening”
dissolves into amp hum and cricket noises only to shift suddenly into the
strummy syncopation of “Marlena,” a joyous slice of twangy power pop whose own
climax soon beckons by way of trumpet (which, it should be noted, is featured
prominently throughout the album), whistles and jews-harp. Or the way raspy,
raveup rocker “Tents” hands directly off to the good-timey “Plans” and dares
you not to get your ass up and dance.
One moment a jarring juxtaposition; the next, a hearty slap on the back; the
point is to get the listener’s attention and hold it, and that’s exactly what Talking Machine does. You needn’t press
the “shuffle” button.


What can Warwick
possibly do to follow up a success as musically vibrant as this? Check back in
five years, perhaps – but hopefully, we’ll find out sooner than that.


DOWNLOAD: “Talking
Machine,” “Marlena,” “Keep On” FRED MILLS

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