Thomas Wesley Stern is a band that I’ve discussed here in the past, and I’m always happy to give them ink with each new project they come up with. This latest release is no exception. Recorded at Lakehouse Music under the expertise of Erik Romero, Never Leaving features 11 diverse songs laced with backwoods flavor and Smoky Mountain feel.
Thomas Wesley Stern are best friends from Ocean County, NJ, who specialize in writing songs based on American roots music while adding their own style of lyrics and performance. They enjoy traveling together and learning about people and the places they hail from. Always ready to perform, whether it be at a bar, restaurant, theater, library, or school, the boys are known for their live music.
Never Leaving also features the able assist of: Jim Doyle – clarinet on tracks 4, 6, and 10, and saxophone on track 9; James Doyle – trumpet on tracks, 4, 9, and 11; and Santo Rizzolo – drums on track 10. Thomas Wesley Stern leaves no stone unturned when it comes to creating harmony-rich compositions and melodically full memories.
Opening with “Landing” TWS moves through back porch movements of banjo-tinged magic. Vocalist Joe Makoviecki leads the band with toned vocal melodies as the rest of the band adds their own harmonies and riffs. TWS doesn’t plod, but they do have a talent for keeping a perfect meter throughout without losing the theme and feel of the piece. The banjo/mandolin middle-eight does perfect justice and hails the band back into great big closing verses and choruses.
“Broken Heart” is up next. Melding banjo with acoustic guitar and bluegrass fiddle, TWS takes the listener on a journey of the broken heart. Once again violins fly into the mix, taking the song to a different place before coming back to the verse.
“Overtaken” comes into the mix next with lazily strummed acoustic guitars. Makoviecki’s vocal melodies soar on top of ethereal rhythm sections and guitars. The band’s backing vocals are amazing and add sparkle to the overall tune. When drums kick in they take this already top-notch composition to a higher level.
“Bourbon Street Girl” features the ultra-toned clarinet of Jim Doyle. He is also joined by James Doyle, who handles trumpet chores here. Stand-up bass mixes with succinct drum work and Makoviecki spins his tale of the magical Bourbon Street girl. Doyle’s horn work is both sensible and perfect here.
“Daughter Of The Farm” jangles out of the speakers with acoustic guitar and fiddle prowess. Makoviecki sings his heart out, covering the areas of emotional sensitivity supplied by the daughter, and locked inside the room within her heart. Chords bounce along with Neal Young-like grace, and the violin work is pure Rufus Thibodeaux.
“Jackson” unwinds with a hazy, lazy summertime country blues feel. Jim Doyle is back with his laid-back clarinet work. His middle-eight jag is jazzy and light. Makoviecki sings in an easy, unhurried style, and the band’s harmonies are perfect. The topic of the Western-bound neighborhood is underrated and fun. “Jackson” is a fun romp in the group’s hometown roots.
“Blackland” swirls and spirals down into its melancholy melody with acoustic guitars, stand-up bass, percussion and banjo. Makoviecki and crew lay magical harmonies throughout the backbone of this intricate number. This reminds me of The Felice Brothers. I love the way the guitar chords meld and entwine with banjo notes.
“Waterway” wanders into the sparse mix via acoustic guitars before being joined by the stand-up bass. TWS mix pristine vocals with lyrical subjects of love, understanding and survival. Makoviecki sings like no one else I know and it is pure unadulterated gold.
“Talk Is Cheap” is up next and comes courtesy of James Doyle’s trumpet work. Guitars and what sound like ukuleles mix with solid bass and drum work as Doyle blares throughout the middle-eight. Jim Doyle also handles saxophone duties here to great effect. This song is a disc highlight for me.
Up next is the disc namesake “Never Leaving.” Here the band explores the time-tested tradition of a love gone wrong and the inevitable results of the passing of time. Sometimes love can be enduring even if it’s one-sided. Violins pine for the one that left as banjos plucks steady lines throughout. Makoviecki sings, “You told me love was giving not receiving, you told me you were never leaving, and you’re gone” This is my other favorite song on the disc.
The disc finishes with “Just.” Featuring backbeat drums, bass and acoustic guitar goodness, “Just” stands right up and says hello. I love the guitar middle-eight here also. Semi riffs mix with chord magic stepping stones as bass and drums nail the low end like clockwork. Drum work comes courtesy of Santo Rizzolo.
Thomas Wesley Stern has had a busy year so far. They’ve been out with Gentlemen of the Road w/ Mumford, Jenny Lewis, and Flaming Lips. They did the Clearwater Festival w/ David Crosby, Ani Difranco, Felice Bros., the Avett Brothers and Nicole Atkins. They sold out the indoor stage. They are touring in Ohio this month, and Georgia next month. If that wasn’t enough, they’re going to be recording a new record soon, and big things are in store for 2016.
Never Leaving is a solid effort from a band well on their way to bigger things. Thomas Wesley Stern is one of the area’s finest acts, and their records are always one better than the last. I highly recommend that you go to thomaswstern.bandcamp.com and pick it up for yourself. Thomas Wesley Stern is: Gary Mayer, Joseph Makoviecki, Robert Jackson, James Black, James Herdman, and Justin Herdman.