Dipping, Rolling, and Floating Along: Thomas Wesley Stern’s Thomas Wesley Stern

by Charissa Lock

Quiet, soothingly sorrowful, and timid melodies ride the tails of Thomas Wesley Stern’s (TWS) sophomore self-titled LPThis is the first impression listen and as I’m curious to continue the journey to get a better sense from the boys that I know can melt a live audience I perk my ears for the shyer moments hoping they can offer confidence.

Watching TWS perform last August at The Project Matter’s Benefit Show, I gained a sense of respect and a connection with the boys from Jersey.  The lighter and more mellow indie country is not especially my style (my closest friends know I’m a closet old school bluegrass lover and that’s about it for the entire genre of country).  There’s something about their live performance that comes across so passionate and special, that seems to get lost through production on their latest album.  I know these lads can bring it hard emotionally amongst their almost whispery vocals or slower, softer banjo plucks, but sadly I have to really focus in order to get a taste of that.   Checking out their Youtube channel, or The Project Matter’s Youtube you can grasp exactly what I speak of.  The instrumentation seems to be a force on its own taking charge with their vocals harmonizing behind in a delicate and impressionably passionate motion.  Yet, on their album the banjos, guitars, horns, and drums are hidden and get lost behind the quiet vocals.  This is very unfortunate for there are great moments and melodies I would love to hear barreling through, but many stay hidden away (“Naturally Happens”).  I guess I would have to reproduce the whole thing…but then I have other things to do.

Since there’s nothing much I can do about this, let’s get into some of these Thomas Wesley Stern tracks.   Like previously stated, many songs off of this album are a little milder than their previous American Pain.  Having “Say It Now” picks up the pace with a more uptempo vocal melody allowing for catchiness to take over, keeping this tune in your head outlasting the length of the album.  Some tracks have this hidden underground acoustic emo feel (“Naturally Happens”), where if you take out the banjos and horns you can envision the vocals being wrapped on the b-side of your favorite emo album.

Being from New Jersey, when hurricane Sandy hit the east coast earlier this year, the quartet was consequently affected.  The track “Roll Water Roll” is an explosion of emotion, towering over the rest of the album, causing raised hairs all over your unaware body.  Out of nowhere approaches a “Taps”-like introduction led by an accordion.  About 30 seconds in streams Joseph Makoviecki’s raw and delicate vocals.  The lyrics are powerful, simple and heartfelt; “Roll water, roll water, roll the water roll; carried away my gold, washed away my home.”  Done in an honest way, not a Red Cross funded approach, but a humble survivor of a devastating event.  The combination of simplicity and passion are powerful leading this to be one of the most emotional songs I have heard in awhile.

Excited to see their live performance knowing it will outweigh the album is something to look forward to from TWS.  This group puts their heart and soul into connecting to their audience, sharing their passion in a live, personal setting.  From seeing their show to hearing this album you can tell that TWS is taking the grass roots approach with their music; making your mark in person, letting your connection with the music be an energy delivered first hand.  This may be a fresh and welcoming notion, but I’m not sure how record sales will be.

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TAGS: Bill Johnson Jansen, NJ bands, Bluegrass, Jackson, Touring Forever, HAPPY 4th!!, MUSIC ALL DAY, BEACH YES!!!