Stillhouse Junkies: Calamity
by Mississippi Chris Sharp
Back in June, 2018, Stillhouse Junkie bassist Cody Tinnin sent me their new CD, Over the Pass. I was excited enough by what I heard that I wrote a review which I published in my blog (Stillhouse Junkies – Over the Pass) It was fresh, dynamic music. You’ll note that I was captivated.
I saw that their new CD, CALAMITY, was just released. Thinking it would be hard for them to top the fresh originality of Over the Pass, I asked Tinnin to send me a link so I could review it for The Bluegrass Standard. Before I listened, I asked Tinnin what his thoughts on their new album were. His reply was,
“This is our finest work yet for sure. Fred’s songwriting is really great on this record and we accomplished what we set out to do which is to record a truly unique album.”
My initial thoughts were that Cody might be a little hasty. I was sure they couldn’t top Over the Pass. They did. And they did it admirably.
The Bluegrass Standard offers traditional and progressive Bluegrass, Americana, and roots music. We’ll place this firmly in the progressive acoustic Americana category. It sure ain’t Bill Monroe. It was not intended to be. Good music is just that, and my how I love to sit down and listen to a full album that has a theme. This album is like a good cigar; it takes time. Don’t to bother spin it up unless you have the time to be absorbed and transported to a different place. There’s no two minute breakdowns here. With several songs going over six minutes, they weren’t worried about air-play, but getting the point of their music across in their own way. I’d say mission accomplished.
The Stillhouse Junkies aren’t another jam band. Calamity is complex, with tight arrangements, stunning segues between musical sections, a fabulous trio sounding like a much bigger band, and stellar songwriting. From the wings, one might hazard the idea that their music is experimental, bringing to mind Led Zepplin, The Allman Brothers, The Hot Club of France, music from Mark O’Connor’s new age phase, David Grisman, the Newgrass Revival, with the occasional and welcomed Celtic twist.
If new and fresh music is their goal, then they clearly see a pathway to creating it. Fred Kosak’s songwriting is wonderfully poetic and complex. A few lines just grabbed me: “But the truth I hear is what you make it, and that was forty years ago, when I gambled everything I had in the mountains of New Mexico”, “Stay if you must, chasing rust from your pipe dreams”, “Nothing waiting at the end but all the miles left to go”, and “Giving up on your mission is as good as giving in. Do you spend a lifetime wishing for a fight you can’t win?” This is painful but glorious songwriting.
Those last three lines come from the Shackelton Suite: three songs, three parts, telling the story of Sir Ernest Shackelton and the tragic yet triumphant voyage of the Endurance to Antarctica. No one seems to bother writing and performing thematic albums, though there certainly did at one time. You rock music fans might recall King Crimson, Yes, The Moody Blues and a few others, who had entire albums with a theme. Those may not have been the most commercially successful records, as they did not contain short, catchy songs, but they are still fresh and relevant as works of art. While Shackelton and his story may not be fresh, the triumphs and despairs of the human spirit are always relevant. I salute The Stillhouse Junkies for tackling music in this way.
I really like the inclusion of a snippet of the “Mission Impossible” theme song in Burn it Down. Roll it Home is high energy acoustic rock. Mountains of New Mexico has delightful melodic punctuation and interaction in the band. No Deal channels the Hot Club of France and Grapelli. Coraline, about love gone wrong, just flies at 160+ BPM. A Hundred Days was recycled from their previous CD and captures the spirit of Lewis and Clark in a Led Zepplinesque sort of way; apparently the artist is not through with this song and its story. I went back and looked, and this is the second time I hear wisps of Led Zeppelin. Then the Shackelton Suite has it’s own operatic quality, as intense as a Handel Oratorio. And My Own Hands echoes the Newgrass Revival with great instrumental transitions between musical sections and ethereal fiddle harmonics.
Cody Tinnin (bass/vocals), Alissa Wolf (fiddle/vocals), and Fred Kosak (guitar/mandolin/vocals) have the synergy to sound like a much larger band, which is what happens when the music is in the pocket. I am looking forward to seeing them soon. Congratulations, Stillhouse Junkies, on being original all the way. This music is art, through and through. Outstanding.