Album Review: Christopher Paul Stelling, ‘Labor Against Waste’
With singer-songwriter Christopher Paul Stelling's third full-length effort, Labor Against Waste, his gentle finger-picked acoustic guitar technique enfolds his songs with an air of soft wisdom one might expect from a grandfather-aged journeyman musician. Of course, it doesn't hurt that Stelling pens lyrics like these, on the aptly titled "Revenge": "You can drag my name through bleach and muddy waters / and see if I don't still call you a friend 'til the dying end / And if you ever thought you're in for nasty weather / I'd say 'go on and build a shelter out of my bones and skin.'"
Stelling then follows up with the chorus "ain't no sweetness in revenge, no" -- a powerful sentiment that always bears repeating, particularly when it's delivered as convincingly as on Labor Against Waste. According to Anti- Records, Stelling wrote most of this material while touring extensively over the past three years and trying to find some sense of constancy while being in constant motion. But that alone doesn't account for how Stelling sounds well-traveled at life, and he comes across with his guard totally down. In so doing, he instills a calm sense of encouragement and safety that sets his music far apart from the conventional folk approach of attempting upliftment via overtly introspective, soul-searching lyrics.
Stelling draws from a deep well of influences -- Skip James, Mississippi John, John Fahey, banjoists Dock Boggs and Roscoe Holcomb, Waylon Jennings, Van Morrisson -- but, again, it takes exceptional qualities for an artist to stand out as a musical "old soul." It would be impressive if Stelling had come to do so at any stage of his career, but he has pulled off the rare feat of sounding like an old soul on just his third album.