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A Question of Temperature

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Album Review

After devoting most of his time to his career as a producer through much of the 1990s, Chris Stamey seems to be recording his own work in what could be charitably called fits and starts; in the summer of 2004 he released his first album in nearly ten years, Travels in the South, but eight months later the man returned to record racks with A Question of Temperature, credited to "the Chris Stamey Experience." While the two albums may have followed one another closely, they represent different sides of his musical personality; while Travels in the South was a mature and ambitious exercise in adult pop, A Question of Temperature was cut fast and loose with Stamey's pals Yo La Tengo serving as his backing band (with keyboardist Tyson Rogers on hand as a ringer), and most of the songs are either covers or remakes of Stamey's older material. With the 2004 presidential elections lurking on the horizon, A Question of Temperature frequently reflects Stamey and his friends' malaise about the state of American politics, as reflected in his passionate performances of Cream's "Politician," the Yardbirds' "Shapes of Things," and "(Let's Make It Real) Compared to What," by Eddie Harris and Les McCann (not to mention the loopy "public service announcement" "V.O.T.E."). When he isn't confounded by the fate of the world, here Stamey seems to be pondering the past, either through his new songs or by turning to the sounds of his past (both in terms of covering tunes from his teens and embracing a noisier, more aggressive musical stance than he did on Travels in the South). But a big part of what makes A Question of Temperature so engaging is that, like Travels in the South, it's the work of a musician who isn't rejecting his past experiences but making something new of them, and if this set feels like part therapy, part busman's holiday, it's a hands-on group session that speaks to its audience as strongly as it did to those who recorded it. He should do one of these once a year.

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