Album Review: Stick Figure - Wisdom
by Gardy Stein
"Wisdom is a journey and a search for what matters in life - a search for meaning, purpose, place and belonging. Wisdom is a code to live by where we can accept that it is ok to start over, to make mistakes, to love, and to feel pain. It is a reminder to focus on the little things that bring joy and know that all of it is a part of our individual story." (Press Release Wisdom)
In a time where everyone strives to be as swag, woke, and exceptional as possible, the trait of being wise seems to be a less important one, reserved maybe for old age. However, true wisdom comes with experience, contemplation and understanding (thus being accessible to everyone who detaches from fast-paced daily routines at times), and it is these characteristics that Stick Figure has artfully combined in the creation of their seventh studio album Wisdom.
Written, produced and recorded by Scott Woodruff at Great Stone Studios in Oakland, California, the fourteen pieces reflect the ambitious standards of their originator, each single one a masterpiece of musicianship and songwriting. Apart from Scott, the team behind this body of work is small in number but tall in effect: childhood friend TJ O’Neill assisted in the creative process, while band members Kevin "KBong" Bong (keyboards), Kevin Offitzer (drums), Tommy Suliman (bass), Will Phillips (percussion) and John "Johnny Cosmic" Gray (guitar, keyboards, backing vocals) made sure their visions are brought to life, the latter also mixing the finished album. Even before pressing play, Wisdom gives you an undeniable feeling of comfort. From the sheer beauty of the cover artwork by Juan Manuel Orozco to the positive images the song titles evoke, it's a feel-good affair that manifolds once the first track zooms in.
"Fall to your knees and hear those voices sing…" Old Sunrise is the perfect opener, creating a mood of both relaxation and anticipation with its laid-back tempo, hall and echo. Unostentatiously, the singer's voice takes us along his metaphorical description of love, and the slightly melancholic undertones make it instantly relatable.
Just a man with a guitar and a dog taking a walk at the seaside – the visuals for the subsequent track depicts a wholesome, humble view on what Paradise can mean to a person. What this song means to some of its listeners is vividly depicted by the comments below the video, which, along with the yearning expressed in the lyrics, moved me to tears. Here is a music that touches hearts and souls all over the world! It's probably during the shooting of the video that the equally beautiful Edge Of The Ocean was conceived: "At the edge of the ocean there’s a place to start over again…" Dreams of togetherness over a sweet guitar-dominated beat and an arrangement that has several bridges!
Capturing that Californian sunshine, both Stepping Stones and Satisfaction Feeling provide the soundtrack for late summer nights with friends or solitary bike rides, while Smoke Signals convey Native American wisdom in choral sounds (some of which were recorded at live shows of the band all across the US) and words: "The more I see, the less I really know. Feel earth beneath my feet, this place to call my home."
With a full brass section (Liam Robertson on sax, Quinn Carson on trombone and Glenn Holdaway on trumpet), a languid one-drop and those bubbling organs, Fall Into The Sun leans more towards traditional Roots, and this homage to Jamaican culture is intensified in Here Comes The Sound. Starting like a riddim from the early Dancehall era in the '80s, it brings the whole joy of having a good time at a dance across. Grooving! The following Sound System, although thematically related, plays with a completely different genre music-wise. What we hear are the well-known melodies of the song The Model, released by the German electro-band Kraftwerk in 1978.
Turning to the featured artists of the album, we have Barrington Levy, whose unique piercing voice enriches the pensive Soul Of The World, and Collie Buddz in Showdown, the single of which was already released in July. Also, the US-compatriots Slightly Stoopid team up with Stick Figure on two tracks: Way Of Life and Higher. From the way the singers' voices harmonize to the on-point lyrics to the wonderful guitar soli by Gabriele Cento and Jai Dev Vatuk, the latter ranks high among my favorites of the album (which are many). Again, the comments under the video are so full of love, gratitude and appreciation that I considered writing this review entirely by quoting the fans! Instead, I'll give you some examples below.
Final touches to this well-rounded oeuvre are provided by Falling Stars. The combination of impeccably played music, innovatively formulated lyrics, and Scott's emotive delivery is hitting home once more, and when the last notes fade away, the wish to repeat this rewarding sonic journey makes me press replay right away. "Free, under the falling stars, I wanna be free, in the heart of it all. Free, under the mystic moon, I wanna be free, cause I’ll be home soon."
Even by the high standards set by Stick Figure on previous releases, Wisdom is exceptional, a collection of awesome individual songs that make up a warm, hopeful, entirely positive whole – pure soul food! As promised, here are some YouTube comments by fans who feel the same:
Austin 10B: "This man single handedly brings the vibes in everything he touches. A blessing to have him and his words in such a strewn world. Huge fan!!"
Ana Lau Fonseca: "Stick figure always heals my soul. This music saved me from drowning in anxiety and depression. They have such positive vibes that make you wanna smile and move on."
Slavik Riov: "This music comes from another dimension. Amazing job stick figure. Absolutely amazing. Soul healing."
Crissy Faught: "This is so beautiful. The power in the music and in the lyrics that relate on a soul level. Thank you Scott for your music it’s truly a gift"
jbmaverick2012: "Music moves the body, Stick Figure moves the soul."
Crypto Kids: "Monumental to say the least. Took me to a lovely place."
Kenny Gold: "I would tell Scott and Stick Figure if I ever met them thank you so much, this is from the bottom of my heart, you have helped me through so many years through a very dark time in my life, you help me when I lost my grandmother and when I lost my papa you help me pull through and your songs gave me knowledge and I want to tell y'all I love you"
Stick Figure - Wisdom
DIGITAL RELEASE [Ruffwood Records]
Release date: 09/09/2022
01. Old Sunrise
03. Way Of Life feat. Slightly Stoopid
04. Edge Of The Ocean
05. Stepping Stones
06. Fall Into The Sun
07. Showdown feat. Collie Buddz
08. Soul Of The World feat. Barrington Levy
09. Smoke Signals
10. Here Comes The Sound
11. Sound System
12. Satisfaction Feeling
13. Higher feat. Slightly Stoopid
14. Falling Stars