Steve Stoeckel – The Power Of And

Steeped in historical rock, gently tossed with pop melody goodness, and carefully served with attention to detail, Steve Stoeckel’s debut LP, The Power Of And (February 2023), is a careful look at what rock music can be in the age of overproduction.  From the lead-off track, Laura Lynn, to the finale, Whistling Past Graveyards, each song is crafted with a simple story, a good melody, Stoeckel’s imperfect but infectious vocals, and instrumentation that offers just enough, without being too much. From start to finish, The Power Of And is a worthy catalog addition to any musical addict’s library. 

Marching out first, Laura Lynn is a song about unreciprocated love. Stoeckel is out front with guitars, bass, and lead vocal. Backing vocals are provided by Eric Willhelm (drums), and Rick McClanahan. The organ, which adds a nice retro flare to the song, is provided by David Harper.

Next, Birds weighs in with a slow burn. Here Stoeckel’s theme is about a couple constantly at odds with each other. They are arguing, not for the first time, and the sentiment here is to reconcile. As Stoeckel puts it: 

“I need you I love you only you only you
Just keep it simple, it’s not that complicated
Trust me, I’ve been there

And we have cast ourselves aside again
One, two, three-repeat after me
I need you. I love you. Only you. Only you.”

If only more people would resolve their differences with each other this way! Here Stoeckel’s minimalism helps tell the story. Fleshed out simply with handclaps, acoustic guitar, ukulele, melodic bass, and a single vocal, the story is first and foremost in this song.

Next up If/Then is about the choices we make in our lives. It’s a thought-provoking song that is special to Steve Stoeckel. Each of us starts out on our road in life, and we receive signals along the way. Sign-posts if you will, that we need to choose from. Our lives would certainly have been different if we had chosen differently, but this isn’t about what could have been, this is about how we have chosen and how those choices have shaped who we are and who we are with. Stoeckel focuses his sentiments here on the relationship that wouldn’t have been if things had turned out differently, and it is something we probably all think about:

“If you hadn’t been beside me
There in that dim, crowded place
If I hadn’t turned to hear you
And felt the lips that brushed my face

What if we hadn’t recognized us
And all the words to be said?
What if my poetry was sleeping,
Taped to the table, still unread?”

Featuring Stoeckel’s former band, The Spongetones, Mod Girl is about a girl that Stoeckel met outside of a Charlotte North Carolina nightclub in the 60s. She was dressed in the modern clothes of those times. The girl asked him to walk her home, and on the way, she told her story. The mod clothing, it turned out, was just part of a facade. Here Stoeckel is on lead vocal, bass, acoustic, and electric guitars, with Pat Walters playing the solos, Eric Willhelm on drums, and backing vocals provided by Jamie Hoover and Elena Rogers. It’s a great little story and the band provides a full, powerful sound.

Based on an actual dream that provided Stoeckel with both the song and the lyrics, Strange Cameo is a short story (under 2 minutes) about a Facebook friend that Stoeckel had never met in real life who was with him in the passenger seat of his car in a situation where traffic was pure hell. He was stressed, but she calmly gave him helpful suggestions on where to turn. Dreams are often part of creative processes, but this is the first time I’ve heard one turned entirely into music. It’s fun!

Steve Stoeckel has written several songs throughout his career for birthdays. He likes writing songs (as is evident by this collection), and another Facebook friend, Michael, is married to an Irish woman and loves all things Irish. Michael, it turns out, plays pennywhistle. Stoeckel sent him the instrumental and asked him to play pennywhistle over it. He then added the lyrics, fleshed it out, and “gave” it to Michael for his birthday. Since then, Stoekel changed a few lyrics and fleshed out the song more, and The Emerald Sea was born. Michael still plays pennywhistle here, with Stoekel providing most of the instruments, along with Joel Tinnel on guitar and Stacy Carson on bodhran drum. The Celtic flavor of this song provides a textural difference from the other songs on this LP and is quite nice!

This brings us to the title track of the LP, The Power Of And, which intimates the connective power of “and.” It starts simply and builds then falls away at the end. Providing the electric guitar parts here is Keith Shamel. The lyric is playful and is very much about changes:

“Blood turns red and blue
One heartbeat for you
Breath goes in and out

Flower grows and dies
Innocence and lies
Perfect trust and doubt

Not even clocking in at one and a half minutes here is the whimsical instrumental Skippy’s Parade. Think of this as intermission!

Then it’s time to rock out. Christine could have come out of any era of music but feels just a touch 60s retro. This is a feel-good love song. Very danceable and singable. 

Mid-tempo rocker, Why, is a collaborative effort with Big Stir artist Irene Pena, that asks the musical question, why do we do this, for crying out loud! Relationships are hard, it seems. Here again, is Joel Tinnel on electric guitar and Stacy Carson on drums.

“Why do you put me down whenever your old friends come to town
And you pretend that I’m just not around
And why are we still here?

Why do I let you go on saying you’ll let your feelings show
I should have learned this game so long ago
And now it seems too clear

Oh, the sparkle in your eyes
How you’d take me by surprise
Hand in hand, right by your side
But now I don’t know where to hide”

Just One Kiss (heard here) is the first single from the LP. There’s no particular story in mind. Once again love plays a part in the songwriting, but there’s nothing too deep. Stoeckel provides vocal, bass, acoustic guitar, and ukulele, with Rick McClanahan on electric guitars and solos, and Eric Wilhelm on drums and other percussions.

“Just one kiss is all I need to get me going
To start me rowing up the lovely warm river to your heart
And if this is not agreed it’s plain to me
Anyone can see that you were never kissed correctly from the start”

Not all of the songs here are relationship and love based. That’s true for the next two songs. Some of Stoeckel’s song inspirations come from real life experiences. Hummingbird is just such a song. He explains:

“I was napping in a hammock on my deck when I heard this buzzing sound and felt a bit of wind on my face. I opened my eyes and saw her 10 inches from my face, just hovering. I stayed very still and held my breath for perhaps 8 seconds, amazed.”

After the hummingbird disappeared from view, he went inside, fired up the studio, and had the song in about 2 minutes. All the instruments here are Stoeckel’s with the exception of the outro, which includes pennywhistle and bodhran drum from Michael Mitsch.

A tribute to children’s book author Maurice Sendak, The Monsters Under My Bed captures the imagination found in Sendak’s books. Those of us who have been a child or have had children in the last 50 years or so, will know Sendak’s work. Here Stoeckel reverses the role, telling the story from the monsters’ point of view:

“All the monsters under my bed begged me to stay
Don’t ever leave us, we’ll teach you how to play

All the monsters on my bed rise and take wing
Fly over my head, wild things that sing

Please don’t go
Please don’t grow up
We’ll never leave
If you still believe”

Just such a nice sentiment. Stay young, and play with us. Sadly, no matter how much we try to stay young, we all do grow older. If we can maintain that little bit of magic that a child has, we do at least stay young at heart.

Heather Gray is a song about death and loss. Everyone needs to reflect on such things from time to time. We lose people throughout our lives, special people, people who are very close to us, and we have to find a way to deal with that loss. 

“I see you in places you so shouldn’t be
Wearing your grieving like a sad tattered dress
Graveyards and high cliffs near the sea
How close to the edge, no one dares to guess

Heather Gray, sad bouquet
Shades of deepest blue
Follow you
Day to dreary day”

Stoeckel finishes the collection with a political song, Whistling Past Graveyards. It’s an unflattering look at the politics of the past and the present (and probably the future). It was made with the late Spongetones drummer Chris Garges, one of the only tracks Garges had shown an interest in playing on. It was fortuitous, as Garges passed away in February 2022. 

Steve Stoeckel
Steve Stoeckel

While the bulk of this collection focuses on relationship issues, there is plenty of other substance here too. There are also songs with no substance by design, and that is OK as well. In fact, the variance of musical styles, subjects, and instruments, plays a big part in the success of this collection. Several songs here can stand on their own, but this collection has the added benefit of being a very good listen from the beginning track to the ending one. Steve Stoeckel also provides a high-fidelity recording, without pushing the boundaries of the music too hard. This is a must for Vodka. Songs require dynamics. So much of the music recorded today has been pushed so far to the top of the spectrum that there are no dynamics left. This strips the music of its soul destroys the fabric of the musical structure and renders those offerings (as far as Vodka is concerned) to the junk pile. There’s no junk to be had here. Production values are solid and balanced. 

For decades, Steve Stoeckel has collaborated with others, with the band The Spongetones, with fellow bandmate Jamie Hoover, and with the collective POP CO-OP. Now for the first time, he is out on his own with fifteen delightful tracks on his very own LP. The Power Of And will satisfy your requirement for power pop and folk-pop, with touches of whimsy and sadness thrown in for good measure. It’s a wonderful collection, that clocks in at just 37 minutes of playtime. There is a tendency for some artists to try and fit a song into a longer track length, even when doing so adds nothing to the final product. Stoeckel’s recipe here is less is more, and it works very well. 

The Power Of And LP cover
The Power Of And

The Power Of And is being released by the stellar label Big Stir Records and will be available for sale (presales are available now) in two days (February 24, 2023). For more information on Steve Stoeckel, check out his Big Stir label page which includes the preorder or purchase link (depending on when you read this). 

Steve Stoeckel has carefully curated a collection of pop songs that tell wonderful stories or no story at all. Everything works well together and makes for an engaging listen from start to finish. Consider adding this great LP to your collection now!10