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James Lee Stanley: ‘Alive At Last’ is an Album That Inspires and Feels Good

Stanley Shapes Life Experiences Into Great Music

James Lee Stanley with Chad Watson and Scott Breadman at The GRAMMY Museum - Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia

James Lee Stanley with Chad Watson and Scott Breadman at The GRAMMY Museum – Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia

By DONNA BALANCIA

James Lee Stanley released a new live album called Alive at Last and it’s more than a live album. It’s a romantic comedy story of his life set to music.

Stanley’s truthful work sums up the highs and lows we all encounter.

But when he talks about his trials and tribulations it’s funny — and hopeful.

James Lee Stanley Stories

“People have said to me, ‘We want to hear the stories,'” said Stanley, whose career has spanned the diverse, including a run as the opener for comedian Steven Wright. “They ask me, ‘What are you, a comedian or a musician?’ Well I’m a little of everything.”

His storytelling style of performance is a rare find in a world filled with cookie-cutter musicians.

James Lee Stanley at The GRAMMY Museum - Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia

James Lee Stanley at The GRAMMY Museum – Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia

At a recent performance at The GRAMMY Museum, Stanley basically stuck to the script and in person and on the album, he takes the listener on a few detours of interest.

Among some of the favorites on the album are “I Don’t Want To Talk About It,” “The Street Where Mercy Died,” and “Racing The Moon,” a touching piece about lost love and teen yearning. His experiences have given him songs that he imparts on lucky listeners and they are more fortunate for his memories.

Stanley produced Alive at Last, which touts the talents of the renowned Chad Watson on Fender bass and Cheryl Prashker on percussion.  The album was recorded during a live concert at Morning Star Studios in Spring House, Penn., by Glen Barrett. At The GRAMMY Museum, he was joined by Scott Breadman on percussion.

Stanley’s an interesting cat. This is a guy who actually sat down with Jimmy Buffett and when Buffett told about his new song “Let’s Get Drunk and Screw,” Stanley thought it was a little bit too lowbrow for him.

Years later when Buffett flew into LAX in his private jet, took a private car to his book signing at Brentano’s in Beverly Hills and told Stanley about his life aboard the yacht in the tropics, Stanley had second thoughts.

‘The More I Drink’

So he wrote the audience favorite sing along, “The More I Drink,” which has a chorus of “The more I drink, the less I think. The less I think, the better I feel, the better I feel, the more I drink. I got a system and it works for me.”

Chad Watson - Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia

Chad Watson – Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia

A night with Stanley is like visiting with an old pal. He tells stories that cover everything from high school and the girl that got away all the way up to the current day with his beautiful wife. He even mentions a wife or two in between, with the song “Worry About You.”

But Stanley’s got great timing and he really enjoys performing — the audience enjoys him right back. songs on the new album range from tender and sweet to raucous and rowdy and Stanley wouldn’t have it any other way.

He leaves no stone unturned when it comes to telling his life stories, whether in song or not.  A part of the hippie generation, there were times when his appearance bugged his family.

Like his Italian grandmother who would give him grief over his long hair and beard, mainly because there was no cheek to pinch buried under all that hair. Years later, when she was on her deathbed, he recalled, her last gasp words were, “But Jimmy why are you wearing an earring?”

‘Alive At Last’

It’s either clever that he recorded his performance or that he’s performing to the album.  Either way, if you see a Stanley performance and bring home the CD, it’s a great way to reinforce a great time.

James Lee Stanley at The GRAMMY Museum - Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia

James Lee Stanley at The GRAMMY Museum – Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia

Stanley shares a real camaraderie with the audience, as most of the people who were at The GRAMMY Museum performance appear to know him personally or are big fans.

As for his style in an age of manufactured talents, it’s a lesson for the young. He’s warm with the audience, his voice is so clear and so appealing in tone, and his jokes are actually funny. If we had to guess, it’s a good bet the late 1970s band Seals and Croft lifted his whole style.

But while Stanley is reminiscent of Seals and Croft and also the great storytelling songwriter Jim Croce — his songs are really for today. He sings of politics, even skewering the clerk who refused to sign the wedding documents for gay marriages, a song called “Do It In His Name.”

It’s a dying art what Stanley does and his style is inspiring. He’s a man who tells his story and says others should do the same.

“I would tell young people today to make the music you want to make,” Staney said. “And be proud of everything you do because it follows you for the rest of your life.”

 

Freebo Chooses the Solo Route and Gets Support from Friends on His Journey

Freebo with Steve Postell - Photo © 2015 Donna Balancia

Freebo with super Steve Postell – Photo © 2015 Donna Balancia

By DONNA BALANCIA – Social media ain’t got nothing on Freebo, as the well-known musician celebrated the release of his new CD at McCabe’s Guitar Shop.

The word “engagement” took on new meaning at an audience-interactive show that brought out the best in performers and viewers alike.

“The show was really fun,” said one audience member. “Freebo is a real gentleman, I liked how he came out walking through the audience playing, and then brought each of his friends out one by one.  It made me really feel like I was a part of the show.”

Freebo’s list of friends is rather impressive with bassist extraordinaire Chad Watson, drummer Michael Jochum, veteran keyboardist Van Dyke Parks, guitarist Steve Postell, and vocalists Rosemary Butler, Eric Schwartz and Dan Navarro.  The evening opened as Freebo and each musician walked through the audience on their way to the stage.

Freebo and Friends - Photo © 2015 Donna Balancia

Freebo and Friends – Photo © 2015 Donna Balancia

Freebo’s new album, If Not Now When, is an introspective collection of the world as he has come to see it over the years, and reflects how he feels about living out his dream of writing songs and then performing them.

His attempt to go solo is a winner on several levels.

Freebo’s voice is reminicent of the great voice of Rick Danko of The Band, and his voice has clearly been severely underutilized over the years. He has a fan base, amassed over the years, who appear to be happily converted to following the solo work.  But maybe the highlight of this independent endeavour is Freebo’s songs inspire, and show others the way to follow their passion. It’s advice he has obviously now taken on for himself.

Dan Navarro with Van Dyke Parks - Photo © 2015 Donna Balancia

Vocalist and songwriter Dan Navarro with the musically talented quipster Van Dyke Parks – Photo © 2015 Donna Balancia

Freebo is fortunate to have amassed an eclectic group of friends and supporters — who were on the stage with him and who were with him in the audience as well.

The friends run the gamut, ranging from the wisecracking young Schwartz, to the legendary Parks. Parks kept the evening running with his midwestern-style asides and quips.

The audience felt right at home yelling out comments about mutual pals, and even making a group phone call to those who weren’t able to attend the show.

The music was a reflection of the group’s interests: Thriving despite the odds, cherishing the miracles of everyday moments and sharing good times and friendship with those around you.  It is clear none of the people on stage take the friendships for granted.

Chad Watson - Photo © 2015 Donna Balancia

Chad Watson – Photo © 2015 Donna Balancia

As a well-known bassist, Freebo appreciated the efforts and support of Watson, who rips the bass like few others.  Watson is a good natured partner to Freebo, who really “gets” him.  Freebo was a longtime bassist to the likes of musicians including Crosby, Stills and Nash, Neil Young, Bonnie Raitt and others.

Drummer Jochum is a well-versed producer as well as humble performer.  He produced the album If Not Now When, and helped craft a full-bodied recording — and re-recording — of some of Freebo’s most inspiring works.

A sweet moment during the show was when Freebo and Navarro reminiced about Navarro’s songwriting partner, Eric Lowen, who passed in 2012 after a long battle with Lou Gherig’s disease.

Vocalist Butler, who has worked with most of the famous musicians of the 1970s and 1980s through today, seemed to take the whole night in stride with lots of giggling. She left the audience in amazement with her fabulous voice, singing the Linda Rondstadt song “Adios.”   More than one person nearby was crying from Butler’s rendition of the Jimmy Webb song.

Rosemary Butler gives Freebo a kiss - Photo © 2015 Donna Balancia

Rosemary Butler gives Freebo a kiss – Photo © 2015 Donna Balancia

The audience didn’t have to worry about keeping it together.  Many were close friends, others fans who felt like friends.

“I used to watch Freebo on a show called ‘Mr. Pete,'” said a concert-goer. “He was with the Zydeco Party Band on the show.  That’s one of the reasons I came to see him.”

All in all, Freebo’s journey down his path was welcomed wholeheartedly by an enthusiastic crowd at McCabe’s.  And surrounded by friends, family and fans, it’s easy to see that Freebo is not going the solo route alone.

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