When two singer/songwriters as skilled as Mike Stinson and Johnny Irion get together, you know that some sparks are going to fly, and that’s exactly what happens shortly after pressing play on their new joint album Working My Way Down. Working My Way Down has all the hallmarks of a brooding, immensely reflective folk-rock effort, but in songs like its title track, Stinson and Irion make it very clear to us that they have no interest in following the rules and conventions commonly associated with contemporary alternative folk music.
There’s a reflective tone to this number offered up amidst lighthearted swing, and though that same tone is recycled in the rolling “Last Chance to Hide from Love,” it doesn’t sound as though it’s been simply repurposed with a new melody and a different groove. In this album, these two players cover as much ground as they can within eleven of the more eccentric songs you’re likely to hear before the spring season is over, yet their efforts sound anything but overambitious; on the contrary, their willingness to reflect honest emotionality through both texture and tonality is a breath of fresh air this year.
The instrumental tones that Stinson and Irion offer in “Cosmic Candy” and “Stranger Here Myself” definitely speak to the moodiness of the adjacent lyrical content, and in the case of tracks like “Ponderosa Pine” and “You Came a Long Way from St. Louis,” they advance the narrative more than the verses ever could have on their own.
The master mix is, in general, a little more straightforward in style than I would have expected it to be given the highbrow caliber of these compositions, but I suppose that it would make sense to take a simplistic approach to the black-and-white framework of songs like “Only Friend I Ever Had” and “Taking No For an Answer.” In the future, I’d love for there to be just a touch more emphasis on the vocal elements in this duo’s collaborative work, mostly because, in all honesty, I found their interplay in this album to be the main reason why the whole of the tracklist is as unforgettable as it is.
Fans of the emerging new wave of Americana can’t go wrong with Mike Stinson and Johnny Irion’s Working My Way Down this spring, and unless their competitors in the underground can muster up something solid between now and the end of the year, I think this LP will remain the top contender for best eclectic/folk record of 2023. Independent artists are taking all of the thunder away from the mainstream this year, and though this is far from a perfect album from start to finish, there’s a case to be made that it didn’t need to be to make a big statement about its composers.
Stinson and Irion seem destined to make some really beautiful music together, and if they can ride the present momentum they’ve got into the studio for a follow-up to Working My Way Down, they’re going to see and hear plenty of applause from audiences around the world.
Buy the album here: https://found.ee/johnnyirion