Last Night: Mike Stinson at Under the Volcano
The motivations people have for going into music are many, and most of them are mundane. People want to be famous, see the world, or prove something to a parent or a lover, so they pick up a guitar or sit down at a piano.
Going unappreciated, too often, are the musicians who do it (and excel at it) because it's their job.
To watch Mike Stinson put his four-piece band through almost 30 songs at an average gig -- say, his monthly Wednesday at Under the Volcano last night -- is no different than observing a fine watchmaker or a mechanic who works on high-performance engines. He's a tradesman, and anyone who doesn't see the art in it is either myopic or just stupid.
It's a technique he shares with other working-man bards, men of both grit and sensitivity but rockers to the core: Petty, Springsteen, Fogerty. Thicken it with a little Keith Richards insouciance, and Stinson leads one of the better bar bands in the state at the moment.
But his lyrical talent is even greater. Across an evening, sad songs become triumphant and small victories are celebrated. "Live to Drink Again," for one. To keep things from getting too comfortable, he embraces "The Kind of Trouble I Need," reels off tangy character sketches like "Take Out the Trash" and Dion's "King of the New York Streets," and digs in his heels on "May Have to Do It." He even shoved a potential radio hit way toward the end of the set, "This Year."
Stinson's songs resonate because their tiny details reveal universal truths. It's the world in a drop of water, a concept also advanced by British novelist Ian McEwen in 2005's Saturday and Texas songwriter Michael Fraccasso on his 1998 album of the same phrase. Stinson excels. A few examples:
"She'll tap you on the shoulder, and you know you've won a prize"
"Got a bunch of replacement parts every time I come unwound"
"It took a lot of digging to get in this deep"
"Can't keep it from starting, and I can't make it stop"
"The lights are as dim as my future"
There were probably 50 others.