Andy Stochansky,
Five Star Motel
(BMG, 2002)

Andy Stochansky (pronounced "Sto-CHAN-skee") is one of those all-round talents that make other musicians envious. After a successful career as a sideman for the likes of Ani diFranco, Barenaked Ladies, Indigo Girls, Janis Ian and Jonathan Richman, Stochansky has poured his energies into his own solo releases. Five Star Motel is his third, and the first on a major label. It's a solid, commercially-oriented project that succeeds for me more and more with repeated listens.

At the core, Five Star Motel is a collection of catchy, guitar-based pop songs. As Stochansky himself points out in his press material, each of the songs would stand up fine as acoustic guitar pieces. However, all of the songs here are highly produced with a rich, electric gloss and a commercial alternative-new-rock sensibility.

Stochansky sounds quite a bit like Bono from U2 and he's also been compared to Ray Davies of the Kinks and the late Jeff Buckley. On the whole, Stochansky's songs are more complex and sophisticated than U2 hits, which is both a plus and a minus for commercial success and memorability. Chances are, though, listeners (particularly young ones) will find Stochansky's more individualistic approach very appealing.

Five Star Motel features many strong songs including "Stutter," "Wonderful (It's Superman)" and "Miss USA." These have driving, memorable choruses, with just the right amount of creativity in the melodic structure to keep things interesting. The unusual touches are something of a trademark for Stochansky, who in previous projects has composed mostly on keyboards (leading to unusual chords and voicings).

The album is very consistent -- perhaps too much so. I'd like to hear more variation in tempo, groove and production, so that I can more fully appreciate Stochansky's lyrics and pretty melodies. In particular, I'd love to hear an acoustic version of "Watch Me Fall to Heaven," which is a lovely and heartfelt song. In his lyrics, Stochansky makes smart personal observations about his own life and comments on social-political issues as well. But I didn't tend to listen much to the lyrics ... I just got into the groove. I did listen to the words on the more simply-produced tracks, such as "22 Steps" and "Magpie." In particular, the latter song (the last on the album) highlights Stochansky's lovely quavering voice and his real, just Andy, personality.

I guess if I had it my way, I'd like to hear more of that. But I'm not a radio programmer. I expect that the contemporary production treatment will work well for Andy Stochansky -- leading to well-deserved radio airplay and wider recognition.

- Rambles
written by Joy McKay
published 6 April 2003

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