Listen Up: Wednesday, April 12, 2006
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A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Max Stalling

Sellout (Lone Star Music)

By Steven Steward

On Sellout, recorded live at Dan’s Silverleaf in Denton, singer-songwriter Max Stalling poses the eternal question: Is it ever too late to start a music career? Before penning three albums’ worth of introspective Texas Music, the native Texan pushed pencils at Frito frickin’ Lay. Judging by the songcraft of the crowd-pleasers and B-sides the old boy ambles through and the rowdy crowd noise, the answer is a resounding “no.”

For years, folks have been likening Stalling to another Texas troubadour, the immortal Robert Earl Keen: Both guys sing kind of flat, and you can’t listen to Stalling’s “6X9 Speakers” — a rockin’ ditty about being 16 years old, cruising around and drinking beer while listening to Boston — without hearing Keen’s “Corpus Christi Bay.” Yet while there are grounds to support the comparison, Stalling stands fine on his own. He’s a solid storyteller, and, contrary to expectations, his narrow range of source material (girls, carousing, youth) actually makes his tales more believable. He gets all the details right.

A lot of Texas Music purveyors try to make running off to Austin and San Marcos sound like a good way to clear your head, but Mad Max really sells it. On the jaunty, Texas Swing-inflected “I-35,” he drawls: “Forget the race / Find an open space / Leave that city far behind.” His weathered voice rings with authority, and the bum notes that surface here and there on the track, and throughout Sellout, somehow enhance all of the singer’s earnest, honest sentiments.

As far as a live record goes, Sellout is better than most. The production brings all of the instruments to the fore, which is key — Stalling’s band is solid. Drummer Jeff Howe is flashy without showing off, and Aden Bubeck, bassist for Fort Worth-based fusion monsters Bertha Coolidge, locks into grooves without locking into the two-step doldrums. Guitarist Dale Carter polishes everything in shimmering Telecaster twang, and in some of the later songs, the trio falls into tasteful Latin-tinged jams that echo the wistful melancholy of Stalling’s words.

Sellout makes it obvious why Max Stalling recorded to a packed house, and when you hear the crowd whoop and sing along, you know he picked the right career path.


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