May 20, 2003
Folk, Singer/Songwriter, New Acoustic, Contemporary Folk, Progressive Folk

Album Review

If ever there was an enigma in American music, John Stewart is it. How many people can claim to have been the last member of the Kingston Trio and become its frontman, to have been the official musician for the Robert Kennedy campaign, to write hits for the Monkees and Fleetwood Mac, to be admired by Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Kinky Friedman, Emmylou Harris, and the entire L.A. Jackson Eagles studio mafia? Just one: John Stewart, who continued to still kick them out, record after record, albeit on smaller labels than Capitol or A&M. While there are plenty of reasons to seek out Stewart's Kingston Trio material, this anthology on Raven doesn't do so, partially because that material is so well documented elsewhere and in part because as a solo artist Stewart was his own enigma. Like the Byrds, the Mamas & the Papas, the Grateful Dead, the Eagles, Jackson Browne, Warren Zevon, Jefferson Airplane, the Beach Boys, and Buffalo Springfield, Stewart embodied a particular tract of California's musical terrain and its mystique. In Stewart's music, like "California Bloodlines," "Razorback Woman," "Some Lonesome Picker," "Willard," and other songs, his folk met country and the expanding textures of pop; his stories entered the listener without force but left their mark nonetheless. "Daydream Believer" is Stewart's voice in a real folk song, kissed by the brightness of pop and graced with California's sunshine. From "Anna on a Memory" to "Chilly Winds," Stewart seemed unaffected by the changing times. He was still looking under the surface for the places in memory and in emotions that make listeners experience things in common. Most of the material here is from the late '60s and early to mid-'70s, but as late as Fire in the Wind, Stewart may have been using updated production techniques but was still writing paeans to truckers. Only on the material from Bombs Away Dream Babies with its smash "Gold" and "Midnight Wind" do the sounds embrace the modern day -- yet even here the lyrics don't. With Fleetwood Mac kicking behind him (and turning his questions into the very things he was begging the answers to), Stewart is still looking at society with bemusement and a wonder that expresses disillusionment at why others don't notice the glory and the grace in people who work in gas stations. Raven has done a fantastic job of revealing how large the myth of Stewart is and how great his enigma remains with this 24-track anthology. For the curious, dubious, and faithful, this is a fine way to spend your hard-earned money.
Thom Jurek, Rovi

Track Listing

  1. Song for a Friend
  2. Signals to Ludi
  3. California Bloodlines
  4. Razorback Woman
  5. Some Lonesome Picker
  6. Mother Country
  7. Willard
  8. Clack Clack
  9. Earth Rider
  10. Daydream Believer
  11. Little Road and a Stone to Roll
  12. Kansas Rain
  13. All Time Woman
  14. Anna on a Memory
  15. Armstrong
  16. Chilly Winds
  17. Road Away
  18. Wheatfield Lady
  19. July, You're a Woman [Live]
  20. You Can't Look Back [Live]
  21. Let the Big Horse Run
  22. 18 Wheels
  23. Gold
  24. Midnight Wind