Three years in the making, Ervin Stellar has released his debut album, Past, Tense. With the help of associate producers Justin Cortelyou and Adam Beard, and Stellar’s smooth-grooving band The Beat, Past, Tense is one of the best independent albums currently circulating around the Nashville area.
Stellar began playing piano at the tender age of seven. An average music reader, Stellar learned music best by hearing something and then playing it back; the same way Steve Martin learned to play the banjo. When his teenage years rolled around, the piano could no longer satisfy Stellar’s musical hunger, and he began playing the guitar. During his formative years, Stellar worshiped at the altar of Nirvana and other power-chord heavy, guitar-driven bands.
Over the last few years, as is evident on Past, Tense, Stellar has found a sound that is truly his own. Hints of jazz, folk and rock are mixed together to make something new and impressive. While guitars are at the heart of most of the songs, saxophones, trombones, harmonicas and organs never seem out of place. It is refreshing to see a debut album that is more than an imitation of an artist’s influences.
The album’s first track, “See a Face,” begins with a lush, 30-second piano intro that sounds like it could be the beginning of a piano recital. But right when the 30 second mark hits, you’re grabbed by a head-bobbing guitar that leads into a tight jam that makes you want to grab someone and start dancing. And on top of this groove is one of the album’s most memorable lines. Later in the song, Stellar tells us that “It’s not gonna be like it was anytime before.” And it’s sung in a way that makes you believe it.
It is this mix, great music and passionate singing, that makes Past, Tense such a fantastic album. You can put it on as background music for a social gathering or listen to it in your room and chill out after a long day.
The album’s title track finds Stellar truly in his element. The flowing vocals and catchy melody are delivered over a smooth electric guitar, and it is here, better than anywhere else on the album, that shows that spontaneity is at the heart of Stellar’s music.
Bob Dylan’s influence on Stellar’s songwriting is most evident on “Amber Waves of Magnolia Nights.” A complex melody is sustained over a nine-minute period, chorus free, to tell a complete story.
If there’s anything critical to say about this album, it’s that some of the songs can run a bit long. Six of the album’s eleven tracks are over five minutes long, and only two are less than four minutes in length.
Tracks like “Heat of the Sun” lack the flare and intensity of others like “See a Face.” But this does not detract from the album’s overall value.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, that is Ervin Stellar, naked, on the cover of his own album.
For a taste of Stellar’s live show, he will perform at at 8 p.m. Saturday, April 8, at Caffeine in Nashville and again at 10 p.m. Saturday, April 15, at Liquid Smoke.