By Peter Karoly

It just seems to be that time of year when I am apologizing to everyone for what I haven’t been doing. I would like to blame it on the Bossa Nova, but I’m afraid that I have to take the blame. The weather has got me down (just wait!) and I can’t get motivated. I know it has bothered both my readers that I haven’t come up with anything new for a while, but I am trying to put that behind me. It is a new year and time to at least think of resolutions.

Okay, now that I have thought about them, let’s actually try and get something done. I have been listening to a couple of CDs by Sean Stout and been trying to figure out what to say. That’s not because I am at a loss for words; I just want to find the right ones.

Let me start by saying that Sean Stout reminds me of something David Bowie once said. Bowie said he wasn’t sure what he was going to do next musically, but he guaranteed it wouldn’t be boring. Sean Stout’s offerings, Lockjaw and Mania are kind of like that. Bowie has been described as being a rock chameleon and, while Stout is not in that category, I would say he is more of an anole.

A native of Beaverton, I first became aware of Sean Stout on a sampler CD entitled Almost Free Music. In that review, I remarked that he opened with “a quirky song that features frenetic playing and low-key vocals. The second selection is more conventional in a Kevin Ayers style.” Changing colors and styles is a trait he follows on these two works.

Stout has been playing guitar for nine years, starting at 12 with instruction from his father. He characterizes his style as “indie rock” and admits he has been influenced by Robert Johnson, Buddy Guy, Jimi Hendrix and John Coltrane. Not too bad a list of influences. The styles of those artists are definitely evident in Stout’s work.

“I like jazz and John Coltrane, who helps me develop my mind for improvisation,” Stout said. “Whenever there is a piece with a guitar solo, 95 percent of it is improvisation.” The improvisatory style of performing does not always guarantee success, but it certainly keeps things interesting. In indie rock, that is kind of the point.

Lockjaw sounds like it was recorded in his living room with no accompaniment and certainly no pretense or inhibition. It is raw, sometimes off-key, and often delightful. We seem to have an interest in listening to how songs are developed (the Beatles anthologies prove that) and these are songs in progress. They remind me of some Captain Beefheart demos I have and often sound like outtakes from a Jonathan Richman session. Come to think of it, there’s something I would really pay money to hear. Stout shows he has a sense of humor in many of his songs, with my personal favorite being “Kennedy, Track Star." “Never run against a Kennedy,” he repeats over and over. Sound advice and pretty funny at that.

Mania is much smoother, better produced, and additional instruments. It is still quirky but, again, enjoyable listening. I must admit that I have not sat down and studied these albums. I think that often ruins the wonder and appreciation of something. I don’t need to put it under a microscope to see exactly what makes something tick. I prefer to know that it works and preserve the magic of the moment. I do that with Sean Stout and I like to listen to him in different situations at different times of the day. Sometimes it clicks and sometimes it doesn’t. That is more a matter of me than him and I think points out that chameleon side of his music. I find it interesting. It is not boring. It is sometimes not what I want to hear but often what I like to hear. If that sounds like something you understand but can’t explain, then maybe you want to give Sean Stout a listen. The experience may leave you with a smile on your face that you can’t explain, and what is wrong with that?

© Peter Karoly, 2011