Stephen Winston’s Unresolved, his fifth studio release, opens with “Sun on the Boats” and it’s a great opening by any definition. Some of the artistic parameters for the album are set, naturally, with its first song and “Sun on the Boats” is a clear signal that this nine song release will be an intimate affair, held in close quarters with its audience, and Winston is making every effort to communicate with his listeners as well as satisfying his own needs as a performing artist. I love the writing – the details are so well chosen and tailored quite well to the arrangement. The title song has more dynamics at play than the opener, no slight intended at all, as Winston times the entrance of certain instruments into the mix rather than laying all his cards on the table from the start. It might mislead you at first into thinking it’s some sort of straight forward acoustic singer/songwriter cut, but Winston never limits his melodic possibilities for long on this release. It’s the foundation of these songs.
“Rainbow County” cops a more traditional country music vibe than earlier tracks and a beautifully delivered chorus that will play well in a live setting. The ghostly backing vocals complement Winston’s own nicely and there’s a clean, melodic guitar solo in the song’s second half that deepens the song’s musical effect. “Maybe It’s For James”, however, goes very differently. Winston utilizes strings heavily for this song by its midway point and beyond that gives it an unique theatrical flavor. He, likewise, brings the full weight of his melodic talents to the fore with this number and they only get better as the song goes on. It’s definitely one of the more personal moments on an album full of autobiographical inspiration, but Winston frames it in such a way that the experience isn’t closed off to listeners.
“For What Purpose” has a meditative build before the drums come in and it takes on a more distinct acoustic country vibe. Winston never flinches from the song’s naked heartache and the near laconic delivery he gives the song peaks at just the right points. Fiddle figures into the album on its last two tracks “Talk on the Town” and “The Last Night”. The former track has some on point harmony vocals supporting Winston and the interplay between them gives the song a lot of its charm. The subtle changes into tempo are welcome this late in the album and are convincing to these ears. The last song, “The Last Night”, is a much more melancholy affair, but not some dreary conclusion to Unresolved. The fiddle playing conforms much more tightly to the arrangement for “Talk on the Town”, but it provides stunning and lyrical accompaniment for Winston on the album’s ending. His vocals here are another peak moment for the album – you can’t help but think his deep emotional investment in this project motivates him even more to bring something a little extra to this closing moment. It’s a wonderful way to end Unresolved, definitely among the best albums I’ve heard this year.
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