Over his career as one of the frontmen for indie rock legends Dispatch and aggro-reggae rock group State Radio, Chadwick Stokes has developed a distinct sound, blending grooving rock, reggae, folk and Americana around lyrics influenced by stories, both political and historical. On his latest album with group The Pintos, Stokes’ talents coalesce perfectly and will certainly please his fans.
Opener “Joan of Arc” starts with eerie chanting and orchestral flourishes, before transitioning into a breezy, acoustic singalong that would fit in perfectly with Dispatch‘s catalogue. In the song, Stokes tells the story of the famed teenage warrior, but smartly uses her story of being killed for “wearing mens clothing” as a modern parable to women’s struggle to protect themselves in a male-dominated society. Next song “Chaska” kicks the energy up a notch, with bluegrassy guitars raving up over furious drumming. There’s a greater urgency in Stokes’ vocals as he tells a story of mistaken identity leading to the largest mass execution on U.S. soil. One of the best tracks on the album, it exemplifies Stokes’ ability to turn heavier true stories into folk punk anthems.
As he did masterfully on the State Radio track “Indian Moon”, “Blanket on the Moon” again shows how Stokes is able to pen a softer ballad that feels personal and universal at once. While seemingly a song about a child and a mother leaving them (“Goodbye my love. This is where I disappear. Remember to drink and eat. Make your transmissions religiously”), the track evolves to delve into larger ideas about how we treat our environment (“and I hope I find someone soon, someone who won’t destroy their moon,”). Musically, it nods to 60’s harmonizing and melodies that invoke a strong sense of nostalgia that pairs well with the message.
There’s a similar nostalgia on “Lost and Found”, which finds friends looking back fondly at crazy times, and finding with a mix of satisfaction and regret that they haven’t changed much (“Here we are, still close to the stars”), but know they should. The storytelling gets more specific on “Hit the Bell With Your Elbow”, which follows a man returning to a small town after getting sober (“I’ve been dry and clean, and I’m ready to try this love”), only to find his past lover no longer has a place for him. Though the subject matter deals with very human issues, Stokes still manages to have a bit of fun here, with the call back-and-forth ending of “Pants down low”. This same sense of musical levity also appears on “Mooshiquoinox”, a little love ditty where the repetition of “Moosh moosh moosh” is impossible to not sing along to without a smile.
The most directly topical track on the album, which is also the sole reggae song here, is “What’s It Going to Take”. Following a clip of Obama discussing the school shooting epidemic, Stokes and band make a plea of “how many bones do we have to bury?” until we deal with this blight on society.
While certain tracks on here play so close to Stokes’ strengths musically they come across as banal (“Let Me Down Easy” is only slightly elevated by the multi-part harmonies at the end), his lyrical subject matter always keeps things interesting at least, and powerfully moving at best. I’m still not sure where ender “Second Favorite Living Drummer” lands, with its referencing of Guns ‘n Roses, Cypress Hill, Alice In Chains and The Rats of Nimh, but you’ll certainly keep listening to it to hear more.
The album comes out on November 15th, and you can listen to three of the pre-released tracks below: