The past month brought singer songwriter, Adam Stokes, back to Antigua for a few days – and he brought with him a long awaited present: his new album, October Sky. Adam hails from Texas, but lived here a few years back with his wife, Jess, an incredibly hot archeologist who spent most of her time on a dig up in the Petén. Adam, fortunately for us, spent much of his time in Café No Sé, where he played a weekly gig, much to the pleasure of bar denizens and wait staff alike.
Adam’s first album, Friends Like These, is still set for heavy rotation on my iPod and I’ve been waiting over two years for Mr. Stokes to deliver on his promised follow-up. In the interceding time I’ve given Adam a raft of shit via email, voice mail and snail mail for not getting the album done, but I know two things about the musician and the man. The former is a perfectionist and the latter a serious stoner. So I cut the brother some slack.
October Sky was worth the wait.
The album’s 13 tracks are an invitation into Adam’s personal world and cover a range of material from the achingly private, “When We’re Free” to the memory seducing, “B to 34th.” Throughout the album Adam sings in a voice both sweet and whiskied.
With that voice, in “When We’re Free,” Adam sings that, “I’m a slob, but you’re a drunk and I get high a little too much. We never really get around to what’s really wrong. I hide from you and you hide from me, either of us only show the things we want seen. I know I’ll be lost before too long.” It’s a song written about those times in a relationship when all the things you once loved about your partner start to get under your skin in the worst of ways. But more than that, the song is about your willingness to work through the pain for the greater love, if only your lover will come along for the ride.
Fortunately for Adam, Jess and the rest of us, they’ve made it through those times and came out on the other end with a beautiful baby boy AND a new album!
In “B to 34th,” written in New York City in October of 2001, Adam brings us all – particularly expatriated New Yorkers – back to that tragically magical moment when we realized just how much our lives and our city were worth. It recalls that very moment when we knew that it was alright to just cry. As expressed in the song, pain and love are of a coin, obverse and converse. For Adam the moment came on the B train. For me it came at Flannery’s Bar on 14th street in late September of 2001 when I saw a woman crying, forlornly, into her drink. I pulled up my barstool next to hers and took her in my arms. We’d never met, but she let it all go. And then, wiping her tears, she said the quietest “thank you” before walking out of the bar never to be seen again. They were the only words we ever shared, and Adam’s powerful voice recalled them to me. And for that I thank him.
That is the mark of true power with a songwriter. By putting memory to melody and imbuing reality with rhythm, Stokes sings to the recollections of the listener and allows their private world to dance a waltz with his. I’ve heard few voices more attuned to that particular magic than Adam’s.
Another one of his true gifts is time-honored in American Roots music. He has the ability to tell a story. In one of my favorite cuts on the album, “Jane Jacobs,” Adam schools his audience on the life and work of the title character, a civilly disobedient woman who helped to save New York’s Greenwich Village from the further pillaging of Robert Moses. Moses was the urban planner who destroyed countless Gotham neighborhoods with the bisecting devastation of highways, bridges and canals, all in the name of progress. If it weren’t for Jane Jacobs, that same fate would have befallen the stomping grounds of my early adulthood. Without Adam, I never would have known her name.
Adam rounds out the album with the lighthearted and beautifully rendered ballad, “Bare Hands,” in which he fantasizes about killing an unnamed object of his recent affection. He claims it’s all a joke, and for Jess’ sake, we sure as hell hope so.
I’ll let him sing us out on that note:
“I’ve heard people say that a person can change, but I thought that it might take some time. But you went from Gandhi to Hitler it seems, all right in front of my eyes. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I hope you die sometime later today. Maybe you should go and not come back. Don’t take this personal ’cause it’s a fact. I’d like to kill you in 10,000 ways. With some ancient torture that takes a couple days. I want to kill you with my bare hands. And if I knew CPR I would kill you again. With my bare hands.”
Those hands, at their foundation, aren’t violent. They are jeweler’s tools with which he crafts beauty and brings it home to his audience.
Buy the album.
October Sky can be purchased online at cdbaby.com and iTunes. Someday soon you should visit his website at www.adamstokesmusic.com. He said it is still under construction, which means, with his weed habit, you might want to give it a few months.