Americana rock bandleader Joe Stamm cut his teeth crooning over crowds of drunks in bars across the High Plains and the Midwest. He’s got a great ear for a story and a catchy tune, and he’s funny as hell. Dale Watson is an obvious comparison; New York’s own Jack Grace is another. Considering that Stamm makes his living on the road in a part of the world populated by freedom-loving people who like a good time, his touring schedule last year wasn’t completely put on ice by lockdowner insanity. He even found the opportunity to put out a new album, The Good & the Crooked (& the High & the Horny)”streaming at Spotify.
Good songwriters never have a hard time finding good musicians, and Stamm is a prime example. Check out lead guitarist Dave Glover’s sizzling flatpicking in Tough Times, Hard Luck, bassist Jonathan Byler Dann and drummer Bruce Moser pushing Stamm’s rapidfire, aphoristic story along. Imagine the Grateful Dead in a lucid moment (if you can) covering John Prine.
Stamm opens the record with the title track, a hillbilly boogie laced with vintage Bakersfield twang and searing blues from Glover. Stamm takes the explosive metaphors in Bombshell – a tall tale about a femme as fatale as you can get – to the next level. with a funny ending that’s too good to give away. Same deal with the album’s funniest song, Blame It on the Dog. This is one bad canine: “Dryhumping in the middle of the night, left on all the lights and who’s the sonofabitch who left up the toilet seat?” Stamm wants to know. It gets even better on the third verse: no spoilers.
Bottle You Up is the album’s most endearingly amusing song: as it turns out, daydrinking is a legacy. Stamm goes into classic honkytonk for Lower When I’m Sober, Dave Zollo’s piano adding a vintage Nashville edge, up to yet another twisted punchline.
As ridiculousy comical as a lot of Stamm’s songs are, some of them are just as serious. On this album, there’s Good Times, a simmering, grimly detailed ballad about the perils of overdoing it. 12 Gauge Storyline works on multiple levels, as a macho murder ballad but also a sobering reminder of how violence has its own legacy: it wouldn’t be out of place in the Lee Bains songbook. And the twangy, soulful, sad Comin’ Home Again is a throwback to 70s outlaw C&W.
“I don’t play no Kane Brown or any of that pop country shit,” Stamm snarls in Pearls to Pigs, as he says so long to Illinois and heads for wilder times in Texas. The psychedelic tinges in that song get darker and shift toward southwestern gothic afterward in Wild Imagination, one of the wildest tales here.
Stamm has a very smartly designed webpage: enough videos and freebies and amusingly dirty merch to get you in serious trouble with your boss. You have been warned. Stamm is playing his birthday show this year on March 13 at Crusens Rt. 29, 1007 N. Main St. in Creve Coeur, Illinois. Your best deal is to show up at 5:30 for a “VIP” seat which includes a good deal where you get a free collectible poster and your first beer is free. Their pizza is pretty cheap and looks really good.