In less than 20 years, Chadwick Stokes (“Dispatch,” “State Radio”) has proven to be one of the most prolific songwriters of our generation. His new album, “The Horse Comanche,” is a well-executed masterpiece brimming with vivid imagery and heartfelt lyrics that express Stokes’ interest in lost love and political corruption. Each progression from “Prison Blue Eyes” to “Our Lives Our Time” feels fresh and original, never attempting to be the next “Dispatch” or “State Radio” record.
Long before the recording of the album, Stokes traversed both the U.S. and Europe, playing both new and old material in fans’ living rooms. In these shows, Stokes tested out the new material to gauge the reactions from a more intimate audience. This new material would later become “The Horse Comanche.”
The first single from the album, “Our Lives Our Time,” takes Stokes’ songwriting abilities into the political sphere, which feels organic with a unique acoustic progression that carries the song’s strong political message. Any avid listener of “State Radio” will surely appreciate this piece, which questions the morals of big government and presents current ethical issues in a pleasantly melodic way.
Notable in this album is Stokes’ ability to create multilayered sounds, which allows for the album to flow freely between compositions. “Mother Maple” takes Stokes’ traditional harmonic bliss, but places in a drum machine backing that gives the song a vitality that is quite unexpected from his music. The lyrics are profound in this piece with Stokes showcasing his expressive love in the chorus: “And Mother Maple I drink from your syrup /And I am thankful for the blood that you bleed.”
Stokes seems to enjoy expressing this idea of lost love in “The Horse Comanche”; it seems to be interwoven into almost every piece. “Prison Blue Eyes” and “I Want You Like a Seatbelt” show Stokes’ desire to find a past love. “Prison Blue Eyes” expresses Stokes’ desire to attain a mysterious blue-eyed woman, while “I Want You Like a Seatbelt” expresses Stokes’ desire to begin a family with this woman (and he throws some comedy in for good measure). Both songs demonstrate an attempt by Stokes to tell a complete love story.
The pinnacle of this lost love culminates into “New Haven,” which is easily the most emotional piece of work that Stokes’ has ever written. The lyrics were inspired by Stokes’ internal struggle with lost love in high school, which seems comical when analyzing the composition. However, Stokes masterfully creates one of his most personal pieces in his ever-expanding catalogue.
Stokes also enjoys taking breaks from his sappy romances to bring forward creative sing-alongs, which balances the album out perfectly. “Dead Badger” has such a simple arrangement, but Stokes’ passion for lyrical perfection allows this song to achieve its potential, especially during the verses. “Walter (First Hello)” takes a more solemn approach to this sing-along concept, but ultimately delivers a powerful one-two punch of great lyrics and solid composition.
“The Horse Comanche” further solidifies Stokes as the songwriter of our generation and establishes him in a league of his own. Stokes is a man who is able to sell out stadiums around the globe (look no further than the three sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden in 2007), and also complete projects like “The Horse Comanche” which make him appear like a small fish in a big pond. This album is personable and self-reflective of the songwriter we have today and marks an achievement that most musicians seek to attain in their lifetime, let alone 20 years in the music industry.