Stoney LaRue’s latest release, Aviator, comes just a mere three years after his Velvet. That’s a record breaking pace for an artist who made fans wait near Guns N’ Roses lengths between albums after his Red Dirt Album release way back in 2005. Stoney has always been unique. A teddy bear wrapped in biker gear. His early efforts were jam bandy at times and full of a well-deserved bravado. Stoney’s always been one of the most talented cats around vocally, and in those early days nobody owned a listening room quite like him. For reference, find the legendary Sidecar Pub Galleywinter bootleg show with Bleu Edmondson from 2004. His own tunes and voice were there right alongside Jim Croce and Neil Young. Through each incarnation Stoney has undergone since he’s grown more comfortable in his own skin. He’s transitioned from mostly covering other folk’s songs to developing his own songwriting voice. Most often that writing voice is bolstered by the pen of the fantastically underrated Mando Saenz. Saenz gentle, wry nature seems to have brought out the truest and best in Stoney LaRue’s artistic soul. They began their collaboration on Velvet and it has truly found the sweet spot with Aviator. Every track, save for a Freddy Powers cover (“Natural High”) is a Saenz co-write.
The venerable Frank Liddell is at the production helm of Aviator alongside Michael McCarthy and a host of A players. The album was recorded to tape and eschewed digital techniques that afford the record a warm vibe that makes it sound like vinyl even when streaming from a mobile device. It’s a laid back, groovy record full of interesting production chances and all the right notes in all the right places. To my ears it’s reminiscent of Merle Haggard’s 1980’s work in sound and attitude. But, it’s not dated. It’s most definitely of the now and the future. This is an artist with a past that has found his future. And it is his alone. While other artists may sound like others, there is no mistaking that this is a Stoney LaRue album. In this day and age that is no small feat. LaRue has carved out his own path on the strength of his live shows and dedicated fans. Now he can hang his hat on a signature sound.
The tunes on this record are mostly reflective. This is a songwriter looking firmly in the mirror. That young bravado we first witnessed a dozen years ago has developed into a well-honed wisdom. “First One To Know”, “Spitfire” and the title track ride on the emotive waves that Stoney triggers in his voice. His voice has always been his greatest asset and he has learned (with Liddell and McCarthy’s help) to use it to the greatest effect. It’s refreshing to hear a veteran performer grow into a more comfortable version of himself. The talent that has always been there is now adjoined with LaRue’s comfort in his own skin. He’s not pretending to be an idiosyncratic outlaw type anymore. He’s just Stoney LaRue. There’s a vulnerability and human quality that was missing in the early work that he now proudly displays alongside his cockiness. He’s happy with it and whether the world acknowledges it or not, these songs seem to indicate he doesn’t care. And for that, we acknowledge an artist that has made a truly special artistic leap to land right where he’s been aiming all along.