A four-part record, recorded in four different regions of the country with different co-producers and groups of musicians, the latest solo release from singer/songwriter Stephen Kellogg is an ambitious effort that pulls its influences from all over the map.
Listeners start in the South. Album opener, “High Horse,” features handclaps and some authentic Nashville twang, while “The Wild Heart,” shares songwriting credit with several members of Kellogg’s currently-on-hiatus band the Sixers.
In the West, the focus turns to “cowboy songs” that Kellogg recorded in Colorado. One standout, “Wallpaper Angel,” is dedicated to the memory of Julianna Edel, a young girl who passed away at the age of 12 after being diagnosed with cancer. Though somber in subject matter, an upbeat chorus actually turns the number into a sing-along and thoughtful tribute.
In fact, it’s not until the road turns north and east that material starts to become more uneven. There are stabs at pop and indie rock. The North region highlight “Greta Girl,” even completes a quartet of songs named for Kellogg’s daughters that started back in 2007 with “Sweet Sophia.” But matters are truly brought full circle by the album’s final quarter.
As a Connecticut resident and father of four, Kellogg was clearly affected by the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting that took place in 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut. But instead of giving in to the sadness of the tragedy, the singer closes his most experimental album yet with two tracks imbued with faith.
“26 Seconds (Of Silence)” is a piano-based eulogy dedicated to the victims of Sandy Hook. And “Last Man Standing” is a sparse acoustic strummer, recorded in Newtown at Cattertown Studios. While heavyhearted, each song manages to find some light lurking at the corners of a dark memory, and slotted together the pair make a strong bookend to a record full of variety.
With 20 tracks and an hour-plus running time, obvious questions arise as to the overall cohesion of such a wide-ranging project. But by keeping the spotlight on the journey behind the music, Kellogg offers fans a chance to take a unique ride. Adventure waits. Hop in.