Mikey Goes To Hollywood: Stinson Visits Country-Starved L.A.

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Photos by Alan Downs
It's no secret that California has long since squandered away a stunning country-music heritage, but for those of us in Los Angeles who give a damn, Mike Stinson represented an almost mystic renewal of the Freddie Hart/Wynn Stewart transplanted-genius equation that damn near redefined the entire genre decades ago.

An offbeat, passionate cat whose reverence for, and contemporary expansion of, the Golden State's progressive honky tonk legacy distinguished Stinson from the local pack of jackals attempting to claim the music as their own and quickly established the singer as a force who set a new, far higher artistic standard.

Where the Hollywood "alt-country" clan dully labors at Gram Parsons-damaged mimicry, Stinson's consistent display of soul-deep, expressive originality was a shock, one that came as one hell of a sweetly satisfying surprise.

Naturally, despite two outstanding albums and a small, die-hard cult following, Stinson's rewards were frustration and heartache. While he deftly harnessed these as inspiration for such epochal gems as the Dwight Yoakam-covered "Late Great Golden State," Stinson eventually wised up and got the hell out of California.

He had finally recognized our terminally suicidal fascination with planned obsolescence: All we do out here is destroy beauty and replace it, as quickly as possible, with some glossy, disposable atrocity.

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Thus, his visit for a handful of Southern California shows last weekend was an emotionally supercharged proposition. In the two years since he fled Tinseltown for Houston, Stinson has issued his masterpiece The Jukebox In Your Heart (an album conceived and composed in California but, not insignificantly, recorded in Texas), rounded up a hard-hitting quartet of able musical co-conspirators and embarked on an exploration of previously ignored tuneful contours.

Heading West was no easy task. Even booking this return to the scene of the crime was a pain in the culo - only one of his four official appearances carried a cover charge - but he rolled into town on a hot tsunami of feverish anticipation, and while he ably delivered the goods, it was scarcely a cake walk.

Hobbled by the non-participation of his M.I.A. barefoot Houston steel man Ricky Davis, Stinson's Saturday gig at beauteous middle-of-high-desert-nowhere honky-tonk Pappy & Harriet's immediately turned into an aural metaphor for California foolishness. Having drafted, for whatever reason, local steel yahoo Chris Lawrence as a fill-in swiftly proved disastrous.



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13 comments
 Butter
Butter

There were a few steel-flavored clams in the first set at Pappy's but overall I thought Mike was stellar. Lord knows I needed a dose. Should've gone to LA for the Cinema Bar show--knew it was going to be epic--but I live in and rarely venture out of Pioneertown.. I love the new band and don't think Mike needs a steel player. The new songs and CD are fantastic. Looks like he is on a roll, certainly happy with the new life in Houston, so I'm just real happy for Mike. I preferred your 2009 LA Weekly article about Mike to this latest. But, overall, I've been a Whiteside fan since "The Beano." It's good to know Jonny's out there keeping the honky-tonk conscience honest.

Formica
Formica

Loved it LOVED it.[Some of] Us Houstonians do indeed know what a treasure we have here with us now. Stinson's songs are pure Country gold, and his pairing with Lance Smith on guitar is perfect. No Nash Vegas to be seen for miles.And some of us have spent time with many of the wannabe-Country types in LA.My hat is off to the few goodies who are still sticking it out out there, but I also salute Stinson for packing up and moving. Sometimes, you just need to get out. Banging one's head against a wall won't necessarily produce better songs or more fans.I am sad that the welcome-home banners weren't flying in every town on this trip back - not that he was expecting them or anything - but how great that his appreciative fans were out.And that they - and this reviewer - could tell the difference between what Stinson is supposed to be vs. what he was forced to present that first night. Humorous only in hindsight, I'm sure. But I enjoyed your hilarious recounting of the steel trainwreck, Mr. Whiteside. Wincingly funny.

[Oh, I love "Unkind and Uncalled For" as an album title!]

PTM
PTM

I'm shocked he used another steel player. He's notoriously picky about his band members. His catalog is so deep and they know so many great covers, they could play until their fingers bled. I don't know about edgy but the band is certainly more rockin and the song selections more experimental.

Geib
Geib

Like I said to you before Jonny, "unkind and uncalled for".

Ricky Davis
Ricky Davis

Well on behalf of the "barefooted" steel player..ha..(actually I do keep my socks on..ha); I'm sorry I had to miss and leave the boys hangin' out there. The writer certainly KILLED Chris Lawrence; but then again, that is a tuff sit in gig. Ricky

Jessedayton
Jessedayton

ps just got a message from Stinson saying the gigs we're great and they had really good crowds...at the end of the day the people who came out and saw them are the only thing that matters...sounds like the Stinson band we'll start doin a regular tour schedule out to Cali...go Mike! ( yes, I'm one of his biggest fans)

Jessedayton
Jessedayton

I think 90% of the songwriters in the world, (LA or Texas) couldn't carry Stinsons' guitar...but dang, there's nothing like getting in a van driving a band half way across the universe for crappy guarantees then getting a review like this...1st rule of Buddhism "life is hard"

Sahm-nambulist
Sahm-nambulist

..."he's lost his edge." f'n hilarious. who said that, dave serby? LMAO>>>> Good review.

Don John
Don John

What the hell is this article saying? Jesus Christ, that's some mangled writing. As best I can tell, this is about how a singer/songwriter moved from Texas to L.A., moved back to Texas and now plays small shows with no cover charge while in California. Then there's a section on how his supporting band is full of phonies who don't do justice to his "finely wrought compositions" and some vague descriptions on how the crowd either swoons for him or thinks he's an edge-losing sellout.

And did you really use "as we say out here" more than once? I assume it's a reference to a lyric of his, since that kind of affectation would never make it past an editor on its own merits. Course, that's assuming an editor saw this piece before publishing, which seems doubtful.

Publishing this is an unusual way of pointing out that the Houston Press music writers are way more competent than their L.A. counterparts, but effective. Well played, HP.

Sahm-nambulist
Sahm-nambulist

@01cc8647a569f6a0a7de324f81308171:disqus : [sniffle sniffle.... pass the Kleenex] ..... Where are GroovyRednex, 29 Mules and others when the waters need to be muddied...? oh, sorry, never mind...

Unkind and Uncalled For should be an album title... Or maybe that's already a Social D choice????

I've never seen anyone call bullshit on a scene in such a terse fashion... bravo for telling it like you see it, JW... another popularity contest victory....

Don John
Don John

I should add that Stinson is, in fact, an awesome musician. But for fuck's sake, this article is awful.

Sahm-nambulist
Sahm-nambulist

Don: I'll just say I don't agree. Seems to me the author is full of praise for Stinson and his band, full of bile towards the LA scenesters and naysayers. I for one don't mind big words and strong opinions... If you've read much of Whiteside's work, he isn't one to pull his punches or suck up....

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