It’s strange to think of Ken Stringfellow as a pop elder-statesman of sorts. Then again, it has been 14 years since The Posies, Stringfellow’s band with John Auer, arrived on the pop music scene with their major label debut, Dear 23.
But since then, Stringfellow has done just about everything, except take time off. Fans of The Posies will find familiar comfort in Stringfellow’s voice and lyrics, but for the most part, this record feels different than anything he did with The Posies. Soft Commands feels very personal, both lyrically and in the subdued nature of most of the songs. But it’s also personal in the sense that Stringfellow is coming into his own style of music. Even the instrumentation invokes the feeling of venturing into territory he’s always wanted to go—or has gone on behalf of other artists—but had yet to do so for himself until now. The acoustic guitar on “Any Love” and the moody piano of “Death of a City” can best be described as simply beautiful. “Let Me Do,” with its Hammond organ, begins with a wonderful Platters’ vibe before launching into a “Hey Jude” stratosphere. “When You Find Someone” finds Stringfellow at his Brian Wilson best.
Not every song on Soft Commands is great, but the songs that are more than make up for it. This is an album with an eclectic mix of styles, both in writing and performance, from a man whose life and musical experiences are catching up to his enormous talent.