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Max Stalling

Comfort in the Curves – 1998 (Blind Nello)

Reviewed by Eli Messinger

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CDs by Max Stalling

Max Stalling wears a variety of hats: rambling troubadour, cowboy, countrycrooner, all with a Texan's tilt. His 12-song debut takes you from the intimate campfire dreams of "Sparks" to the open-road escape of "I-35." Like fellow Texan Jack Ingram, Stalling is an old soul, with a pen full of unusually detailed stories. His music sparkles with touches of accordion, mandolin, pedal steel and superbly-placed female harmonies.

Slower numbers like "Might Have Been in Austin" sport a country-folk feel, reminiscent of Lyle Lovett or Jimmy Buffett's earliest Nashville work, while "Come Around" matches the sundown tempo of the Sons of the Pioneers to a harmony reminiscent of Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks. But, in the end, it's Stalling's lyrics that grip the listener. Ranging from the existential despair and ragged worldly remains of"Time's Hand in Your Pocket" to the elemental musing of "Tadpoles and Eagles," Stalling crafts his words without overworking them. He conjures poetic laments with everyday imagery: "But my heart's like an old cat's tail and love's a rocking chair."

The album closes with a wonderful remembrance of childhood, warmed by the comfortable curves of time. (Box 721144, Dallas TX 75372-1144, 214-827-7301)