dy Stapleton might not be drinking hot and cold running champagne from a solid gold faucet, but he’s certainly achieved a measure of critical success over the years.
The frontman/songwriter for The Stapletons, Cash Flagg and The Generals has amassed a few Cincinnati Entertainment Awards that require occasional dusting, and he may have to make a little room on the mantle for more with the release of his first ever solo album, Wolf Angel, recorded with and by some of his oldest friends.
“I really feel like this is one of the best things I’ve ever done,” Stapleton says over coffee at Red Tree in Oakley. “I’m really blessed to have these people in my life. It is a ‘we’ thing. Once you get together, it can be so much more and that’s what it was. You’re with your people you love and that you dig hanging out with, and something magic happens. You can’t explain it, it’s just something that is.”
Considering all of the positive reaction that Stapleton has enjoyed with his previous band incarnations, he admits he typically experiences a certain amount of intimidation at the start of a new project.
“Yeah, there’s always that element of, ‘Is this going to be cool? Will people dig it?’ ” he says. “On the other side, this is it, this is kind of what I do. I have my limitations, I have things that I’m blessed and allowed to do, so on each record, I try to do something different.”
That reaction intensified when Stapleton decided to release Wolf Angel as a solo project rather than as a band collaboration. And while this is coming out under his name alone, he calls out his former Stapletons bandmates Sammy Wulfeck, Jason Gay and Dan Horn as The Wolf Angels in the album’s credits.
“The Stapletons ended kind of abruptly in 2007 — a couple of the guys were pursuing degrees — but there was never any kind of finalization to it, so I was sad about that,” Stapleton says. “I had always wanted to get back to record with those guys. We did a show in 2010 on Fountain Square and I wanted to get that vibe going again in the studio. I said, ‘Hey, guys, I know we haven’t played in a long time but I’ve got this collection of songs. Listen to them and see what you think.’ Everybody responded ‘Yes!’ and it felt like the right time to get back together.”
Given the introspective nature of the Wolf Angel songs, Stapleton decided the sonic profile of the new material precluded it from being released as a Stapletons album. Tagging the new assemblage of old bandmates as The Wolf Angels made sense.
“With the Stapletons, it was real organic,” Stapleton says. “I would bring in an idea, not a finished song, and Lance would add his part and Mick would have his influence so a lot of it happened that way. But I had these songs finished and in the can, set to go. That was the difference.”
The songs that comprise Wolf Angel were largely written during a period of serious personal upheaval. Along with the vaguely defined internal struggles that intermittently plague all songwriters, Stapleton and his wife, artist Melissa Bracken, found the joy of the arrival of their daughter Beatrice tempered with the sobering reality that her Down Syndrome had resulted in a life-threatening heart condition. After waiting the requisite number of months for Beatrice’s heart to grow to an operable size and withstanding a couple of cancellations due to more pressing emergencies taking precedence, the Stapletons’ newborn girl finally received the six-hour operation she required in August.
“It’s like watching a miracle happening,” Stapleton says with a sigh of relief. “She’s 100-percent healed. She’s being a baby. They told us when she was on machines and stuff, ‘It’s going to be night and day. I know you can’t see it now, but trust us.’ So when we were recording, and Missy was still doing her art shows, this was all going on. We decided that we had to do our art in order to have the peace to deal with something huge that’s happening. And that peace permeated the record.”
As Stapleton began sifting through the songs he had written during the wait for Beatrice’s surgery, he realized that they were much more quietly reflective than the raucous material that had become his previous bands’ stock in trade. That’s when he started thinking in terms of presenting these new songs in a stripped down and essentially solo atmosphere.
“The stuff I was writing for The Generals was heavier music but other stuff was coming out a lot lighter,” Stapleton says. “I’ve always had a love of mid-’60s Garage and early ’70s Rock, but I like the lighter side of Folk, like The Seekers or Pop/Folk like Gale Garnett, or even the side of Crosby Stills & Nash that’s more acoustic. And that’s what was coming out.”
In addition, Stapleton channeled his father’s love of traditional Country in the vein of Johnny Cash, Johnny Horton, Webb Pierce and Sonny James, and his newfound interest in Gospel, represented by Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers and the Bluegrass-touched hallelujah of The Principles. As a result, Wolf Angel is a moody and contemplative set of songs that spans the broad spectrum of what constitutes Americana, refracted through the dual prisms of Stapleton’s contemporary perspective and his longstanding influences.
“It was molding into that kind of thing and it comes out that way by accident,” Stapleton says. “They were the songs I just kept writing.”
Another important element in Wolf Angel’s success is the physical recording, which was done in singer/songwriter Jeff Roberson’s Barn on Murder Creek. Roberson and Stapleton have been friends since The Stapletons days, and Stapleton did some harmonica work on Roberson’s last album and he wanted to recreate that atmosphere on his own recordings.
“That vibe I felt was just like a garage; the low-lit lights, the paneling, the barn out in the country,” Stapleton says. “It’s such a great relaxed feeling and it permeates your soul. This record had that feeling, like a rustic, older, vintage vibe to it and I felt it just belonged in a place like that. There’s just something about that room. I don’t think the record would be what it is without Jeff at the controls.” ©
JODY STAPLETON celebrates his new album release Saturday at The Comet with Jeff Roberson and The Stapletons. More info: cometbar.com.