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Album Review

When John Stewart moved to Warner Brothers in 1971, his first album for the label, The Lonesome Picker Rides Again, stuck closely to the formula his Capitol albums did, but with a boatload more energy. Continuing to record in California, Sunstorm uses many of the same musicians who appear on Stewart's previous records, but there are some notable differences in its sound. Sunstorm was the first record where Stewart and producer Michael Stewart moved into the direction of an album that was assembled as much as it was recorded, and the sound is lusher, fuller. In addition, piano maestro Glen D. Hardin handled the musical arrangements. This can be heard from the delicate balance struck between acoustic guitars, pianos, and basslines on "Kansas Rain." The way the choruses fall in the backdrop just above the string section makes an evocative soundscape for Stewart's poignant lyrics. "Cheyenne" is a classic folk ballad cum country rambler with killer crescendos and pedal steel and fiddle solos. But it's not until "Bring It On Home" that the rollicking country-rock comes whistling in for the strike. With the handclaps (some of them done by Billy Mumy, aka Will Robinson from Lost in Space), large singalong chorus, and honky tonk piano that make Hardin's arrangements take full effect, Stewart's production makes the set feel live. Guitar legend James Burton plays not only guitar and dobro but sitar on the title track. There's a touching moment of Stewart with his father on "An Account of Haley's Comet." John Sr. recounts the personal story of his encounter with Haley's Comet, and Hardin assembles the musical accompaniment, with John Jr. and chorus singing the refrain. "Light Come Shine" is a cross-pollination of country-rock and gospel that is, with its grandiose chorus, corny at best, but it is redeemed by the Travis-style picking country of "Lonesome John." Like Jerry Jeff Walker and Guy Clark, Stewart could spin a yarn from the present as if it were a conversation that takes place in front of the listener. Pedal steel player Jerry Scheff's bass drives the tune from below, and the twin guitars of Burton and Mike Deasy roll in the lyric before giving way to the closer "Drive Again," which is a dead cross between Gram Parsons, Dave Dudley, and Delaney & Bonnie filtered through Stewart's lyrical perspective. It's not perfect, but it's a damned fine album, one that stands the time test even if its production sound is dated.


Born: 05 September 1939 in San Diego, CA

Genre: Singer/Songwriter

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

John Stewart first gained recognition as a songwriter when his songs were recorded by the Kingston Trio. In 1960, he formed the Cumberland Three, which recorded three albums for Roulette. The following year, he joined the Kingston Trio, replacing Dave Guard, and stayed with them until 1967. His song "Daydream Believer" was a number one hit for the Monkees at the end of that year. Stewart traveled with Senator Robert Kennedy on his 1968 presidential campaign, an experience that affected him deeply....
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Sunstorm, John Stewart
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