Stefanie Keys – Open Road
Few bands or solo artists working today enjoy the chemistry listeners will find on Stefanie Keys’ latest release. Her third full length album, Open Road, features ten songs that sound like they were cut live on the floor moments after the writing was finished. This freshness and seamless marriage of collaborators is no doubt the result of exceptional talented performers working at a high professional level, but they seem to have the sort of artistic telepathy setting apart the truly great outfits from the merely good. Every song comes at the listener with a steel-eyed, but never obnoxious confidence that knows how to present these songs in the best light and with as little fuss as possible. Music like this should never be over-thought. It comes from the heart and should sound as natural as laughter or tears while still being perceptibly shaped by artistic technique that helps realize the potential of these moments.
The aforementioned confidence is ample on the album’s title song. None of the songs on this album run longer than five minutes, but Keys and her band never sound in a hurry. Their deliberateness gives Keys plenty of opportunity to emote and twist familiar imagery into a new experience. The same principle applies to the album’s second song, “No Tomorrow”. This song has much more swagger than the opener and a message longtime listeners have heard in many other tracks, but it takes on different dimensions in the hands of Keys. Keys sounds like she’s singing to herself, an audience of one, and the intimacy of her performance makes the sentiments all the more vital and revealing. “3 Hours Till Yesterday” has a suggestively personal slant as well and shows some real originality in subverting traditional songwriting tropes for her own advantage. Keys holds nothing back from listeners, lyrically or vocally, and her band mates answer in kind with equally committed performances.
She indulges her bluesier side with the evocative “City Life”. It would be quite easily for a group of talented musicians to simply summon up some sure clichés on a song like this, but Keys and her songwriting winks at what we might expect from music like this and, instead, challenges us with a number of understated textural twists and surprises. “Highway to Your Soul” has a hard charging style recalling the album’s second track, but the power is much leaner and more focused here. Keys summons up a wonderful feeling of yearning and determination in her vocal that comes off quite rousing. The well-detailed and careful writing powering the second to last track “Amos Crain” draws out a similarly coherent performance from the band. This is Open Road at its best – musicians and songwriter alike are working in flawless lockstep with one another and the magic is palpable.
Open Road has a wealth of gems, some brighter than others, but the power of the release measured as a whole is quite undeniable. Keys knows when to press her musical case with listeners and when to be much more thoughtful and the missteps common to such efforts are notably absent here. Singer and band are rarely so well matched as they are on Stefanie Keys’ latest release.
9 out of 10 stars