Archive for the ‘Reviews and Interviews’ Category


This is the second installment of a three part conversation with James Lee Stanley. In the first installment (read it here), James talked about the process of songwriting. Here, he discusses a different and equally important element of musicianship – playing someone else’s music in a new and interesting way – which he’s focused on in his albums All Wood and Stones (2007), and All Wood and Doors (forthcoming, 2011), acoustic interpretations of Rolling Stones and Doors songs, respectively.

James and John Batdorf playing their version of the Rolling Stones’ Satisfaction from their 2007 album, All Wood and Stones.

The AV: In addition to your own material, you’ve spent a lot of time working with other people’s stuff.

JLS: Right. As you know, I did that All Wood and Stones record – I really like taking other people’s music and re-presenting it to people in a way that they’ve never heard it before. I mean, nobody ever heard those Stones songs like that. And I’m doing that Doors album right now, and nobody ever heard the Doors like that. I have this album “New Traces of the Old Road” and I do two Dylan songs, and everybody thought I wrote those songs. I do “Thom Thumb’s Blues” and I do “You Go Your Way and I Go Mine.” And neither one sounds remotely like a Dylan song. But they’re his songs.

The AV: Hear, hear. When people cover songs, what I’ve seen a lot of is people trying to get it down as exactly as possible, to hit every note.

JLS: I’m so confused by that. I like to reinvent them.

The AV: What did you do to the Dylan songs that changed their character?
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Over the last 37 years, James Lee Stanley ( has released a meager 24 albums of original material. As I’ve explored his music, what’s impressed me most is that he’s continued breaking new ground with each project. For example, what you’ll hear on Live at McCabe’s (1986) – see the I Lose You Win video below – has a very different character than the tunes that comprise his most recent album, Backstage at the Resurrection (2010).

So needless to say, the man knows a thing or two about songwriting. He’s also a funny dude, a pleasure to talk to, and generous with his time, wisdom, and vast experience writing, performing, and producing music. In fact, for the past several years he’s been running a website – – which is his platform for sharing ideas and experiences about all elements of his craft. There are some vital insights there for any musician and/or performer.

I recently had the opportunity to spend some time chatting with James. We had met before – at his show a few days earlier – so we weren’t strangers when we sat down to talk. He had played at the Triad Theater, a small, sit-down venue in New York City perfect for a stand-up comedian or singer-songwriter. James is both.

So much of what he had to say is so interesting that I decided to break it up into several pieces so I could share as much of it as possible with you, loyal readers of The Acoustic Version. This is the first installment of three – check back each of the next two Sundays for parts 2 and 3.

A James Lee Stanley show is an emotional roller coaster ride. One moment you’re rollicking with laughter, the next you’re completely transfixed by the music. “I give [my audience] a window into everything I’ve got,” he says.

The AV: Let’s talk about songwriting. Can you tell me a little bit about your approach?

JLS: I like to orchestrate the song, and I do it with one guitar so that no one ever goes “Hey, wait a minute! I paid 20 bucks to get in here. Where’s the band?” No one’s every complained there’s no band when I play.

I also take a long time to write my lyrics, and I take a long time to write my songs, and I don’t want the focus to be on the arrangement any less than I want it to be on what I’m trying to say and how poetically I’m saying it. My goal when I write a song is for the lyrics to be able to sit by themselves and work. And if you just heard the melody all by itself, it would work. And then if you heard the guitar part that went behind the song all by itself, it would work. It would be satisfying all by itself. And then I try to combine them so that every aspect of it, every facet of it, is equally valid.

The AV: Some songwriters write to melody; some write to their instrumentation, and there are some who are primarily poets, and they set their stuff to music. But if you’re not privileging one element over the others…
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Filed Under (Reviews and Interviews)

It’s hip nowadays to grieve for the vanished social and political consciousness reflected in pop music. The folk revival, and to a lesser extent the rock which emerged in part from it, established musicians as influential voices for political protest and social change. But in the last two or three decades, the argument goes, musicians have voluntarily relinquished their platform.
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Filed Under (Reviews and Interviews)

Thomas Jefferson, the great American statesman, was also a renowned inventor who devised a range of instruments for use around the house. One of these, a revolving book and music stand, allows its user to easily rotate between multiple texts – let’s say, scales and other exercises, a piece for performance, and a lesson in right-hand technique from Rodrigo y Gabriela – much as the most newfangled of smartphones do today.

Castiv, in grand Jeffersonian tradition, has updated this concept for musicians of the 21st century by releasing their handy Guitar Sidekick. The Sidekick clips onto the strings just below the tuning keys and holds a smartphone – online tablature being the sheet music of choice for many guitarists – for easy sight reading. The contraption can be adjusted for comfort, and is spring loaded to accommodate whatever size gadget you happen to have. In addition to tabs, it’s useful for lyrics and even for watching instruction videos.
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