But in the world we live in, he’s barely on the map. He doesn’t even have the sort of fame Elvis Costello enjoys, where he’s never in danger of selling a million records but he shows up on TV and his albums are easy to find on Best Buy’s shelves. I’ve had to buy all Stew’s albums online, and his Negro Problem CDs aren’t even in print anymore. Very discouraging.
I first learned about Stew from Alex, who heard him interviewed on NPR. He played a sweet song about his daughter (‘The Sun I Always Wanted’) and made enough of an impression on her that I ordered the CD cold. I was won over immediately, though she never really jumped on the bandwagon, and I now own all seven of his releases (three solo albums and three recorded with a band under the moniker The Negro Problem, plus the soundtrack to his recent Broadway musical called Passing Strange).
One of the coolest things I’ve stumbled upon on the Web is a blog by Counting Crows lead singer Adam Duritz in which he spends thousands of words singing the praises of Stew. Now I’m prone to hyperbole, but Duritz puts me to shame in that department.
Here’s what he wrote about ‘Comikbuchland,’ today’s Song of the Day:
Two songs later, after the deliciously funky soul of “Sea of Heat”, the album segues into “Comikbuchland”, which (and I hate comparisons like this) comes the closest anyone’s ever come to re-creating “Penny Lane”, except this “Penny Lane” is set in a Los Angeles bohemian ghetto (check out Heidi Roedenwald’s perfect Paul McCartney/Brian Wilson bass playing on the song).
At least I think it does. I have to be honest, I never think about what Stew means in his songs. I’m so entranced by the wordplay and the unearthly hook-heaven of the music that I never have the concentration to really ponder them, although I do think the whole thing is worth the price of admission just for the otherworldly lyric cleverness of:
Tell me again what constitutes good hair
And tell me how the guns and bums
Unbraided your deep dread of reason in Comikbuchland
“Unbraided your deep dread of reason”? C’mon. I would kill to have written that. Now that is some seriously funky metaphorical double-meaning shit right there. THAT…is not for beginners.
I keep coming back to The Beatles but, once again, that’s exactly the same way I feel about them. I have no idea what the hell they’re talking about and I don’t really care at all. I DO know this. The Beatles were brilliant lyricists and so is Stew. I’m not gonna lie to you, and let me get this out of the way right here at the top of this article, he is flat-out unquestionably no doubt in my mind whatsoever the finest songwriter working today. He is so far and above my favorite that I can’t even think of anyone working in the same stratosphere as him, at least not off the top of my head. The six albums I’m going to talk about here are some of the best albums anyone’s made over the past decade. Ever since Joys and Concerns, whenever Stew released an album, as far as I was concerned it was hands down the best album of that year.
Yeah, I’d say he’s a fan. Everybody should be.