The eleven instant classic barnburners and ballads on Mike Stinson & Johnny Irion’s album Working My Way Down are soulfully and powerfully infused with country, Southern rock, blues and Americana that it’s fascinating to learn that this long-awaited project by these two old friends took root in an old farmhouse in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley – and came to fruition on analog tape in the rolling hills of Berkshire, MA some 25 years later.
Though their exuberant, effortless chemistry – displayed with both power, joy and vocal harmony fire on the studio based video for the raucous salt of the earth opener “The Bottle and Me” – provides the driving emotional thrust, there’s a key third party in the room, at least spiritually. When Stinson and Irion were first honing their hybrid country rock vibe and began playing live, they added Stinson’s friend, accomplished prog rocker, Andy Jones to the mix. As they tell it, a marriage, a million miles and the sudden tragic death of Jones in 2009 all conspired to sideline the band – but in truth, both Stinson and Irion developed fascinating, diverse Wikipedia entry worthy careers apart from each other in the decades since.
Anchored by five songs – among the most engaging, memorable and hard hitting here – penned back in the day by Jones, Working My Way Down is a way for the duo to honor the memory and legacy of their secret creative weapon and re-explore their undeniable intuitive creative magic. Though “The Bottle and Me” is probably the most free-spirited of these jams, at least musically, the deeper thrust of the duo’s passion and desire to pay homage comes to light on the poignant and melancholy title track, the reflective goodbye ballad “Only Friend I Ever Had” and a gently twangy, regretful but somewhat tongue in cheek look at unmaterialized dreams on “LA Cowboy.” The duo complements the Jones tunes with a batch of decidedly more lighthearted gems like the romantic singalong “Ponderosa Pine,” the trippy, raucous power ballad “Cosmic Candy” (about an popular internet burlesque performer) and the freewheeling “Brand New Love Song,” a semi-hopeful song about second chances.
It’s tempting for artists and listeners these days to just latch on to a few favorites and aim for playlist inclusion, but Working My Way Down deserves to be experienced to the end, where Stinson regales us with his sweetly lilting “Last Chance to Hide From Love” and the two old souls enjoy one last, hard driving harmony hurrah to their friend Jones with the lively but lyrically pointed and ultimately lonesome rocker “Stranger Here Myself.”