In a way, Chris Stamey’s music has always been an archeology of pop, particularly the pre-1970s variety. From his albums with The dB’s to his work with Big Star’s Alex Chilton and his projects as a producer, everything revolves around exploring different conceptions and inscriptions of the popular. On Stamey’s prior album, 2019’s New Songs for the 20th Century, Vols. 1 & 2, the Chapel Hill native actually wrote new songs as though he were an inhabitant of Tin Pan Alley or the Real Book.

A Brand-New Shade of Blue continues in that vein, conjuring the smoky, twilit, jazzy New York of the late 1950s (or is it the Paris of the French New Wave?). Stamey is explicit about his source material—Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Thelonious Monk, Burt Bacharach, Jimmy Webb, Harold Arlen, and Antonio Carlos Jobim—and these songs are imbued with a world before the British invasion or the folk revival. They all began as lead sheets written late on winter nights, and they channel a world in which every chord change matters, painting the lyrics in different hues.

An album this rooted in the past walks a fine line between copying and pastiche, and it risks falling into an uncanny valley between the past and the present. Stamey and his Fellow Travelers—a multigenerational band of sharp musicians, most of them from North Carolina—do a decent job navigating this. Lead vocalist Brett Harris could never be confused for one of those late-50s crooners. His wispy tones make the songs more delicate and crystalline, bringing the emotional core a little closer to the surface.

And the instrumental solos and filigrees are perfectly on point, evoking cool jazz without being too beholden to it (especially on instrumentals like “Un Autre Temps”). The raging electric guitar solo in “Cerulean Is Lovely” makes it much more than a Coltrane homage. And Django Haskins shows up for the closer “Dangling Cheek to Cheek,” a postmodern banjo-driven romp that sounds like a slightly more buttoned-up version of Squirrel Nut Zippers.

But sometimes, the unreal pokes through. There are times when the lyrics seem a little too winking towards their inspirations, where they self-consciously twirl the language of the standards, like the title track or “In a Minor Key.” Some of these songs feel strangely similar, using the same kinds of interchangeable building blocks—I’m not sure I could tell you the difference between “In a Minor Key” or “It Must Be Raining Somewhere.” As a result, parts of the record feel indistinct, painted in nearly indistinguishable shades of blue.

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