David Roth – Will You Come Home – Stockfisch Records stereo-only SACD SFR 357.4079.2, 50:06 ***1/2:

(David Roth – guitar, vocals; Ian Melrose – guitar; Lutz Moller – piano; Lucile Chaubard – violincello; Don Ross – dobro; Manfred Leuchter – accordion; Lea Morris – backing vocals; Mike Silver – backing vocals; Beo Brockhausen – soprano saxophone; tin whistle; bowed psaltery, percussion; Kerstin Blodig – bodhran; Alessandro Gulino – electric bass; Hans-Jorg Maucksch – fretless bass)

Stockfisch Records has carved a niche in hi-resolution music production. They have assembled a variety of artists who write and perform personal, folk-based material. They are recorded with state-of-the-art technology that elevates the aesthetics. Producer/engineer Gunter Pauler intermingles the advanced engineering with the basic musical format (which in many starts with guitars and vocals). And the warmth and closeness of the musicians remains fluent.

David Roth fits comfortably into the classic singer/songwriter mode. His songs are contextual narratives that rely on a basic folk guitar. His latest release Will You Come Home is a collection of upbeat reflections. The opening track, “Be Kind To Yourself” explores the polarization of self-criticism and happiness. On the opening cut (“The Silver String”) simple acoustic guitars (Roth and Ian Melrose), fretless bass (Hans-Jorg Maucksch) and udu (Beo  Brockhausen) blend in with the vocals (with able backup singing by Mike Silver). Ruminations on falling in love (“How Do You Hold On To Love”) with a nice accordion shading by Manfred Leuchter), his father (“The Armor Song”) or offering thanks to a high school teacher (“Thank You Mr. Ryan) are personal, but feel universal in their messages. There is a positive vibe to most of the compositions. “Everybody” adopts a folk refrain to deliver the message. Don Ross contributes some nimble lines on dobro and Lea Morris elevates the song (as always) with her dulcet vocals.

The stories of Will You Come Home are at the core of the album. A chance meeting at a party in Los Angeles has a surprising, personal history for Roth in “Nights At The Chez”. Tributes to writer Tom Robbins (“Spacesuits”) and Norman Rockwell (“Norman’s Way” which also includes a Gershwin reference) add to the personally connective ambiance. With the outstanding SACD audio quality, the sound is expanded and rich in texture. Also, the packaging of Stockfisch SACDs is first-class. The booklets are glossy with concise liner notes, and the jewel cases are of superior quality and durability.

TrackList: Be Kind To Yourself; How Do You Hold On To Love; Everybody; Nine Gold Medals; Norman’s Way; I’ll Be Here For You; Nights At The Chez; Spacesuits; The Armor Song; Thank You Mr. Ryan; Will You Come Home; Greater Good Of All


Paul Stephenson – Girl With A Mirror – Stockfisch Records stereo-only SACD SFR 357.4069.2, 57:48 ***1/2:

(Paul Stephenson – guitar, vocal; Ian Melrose – guitar, dobro, Beo Brockhausen – flute, chimes, soprano saxophone, udu; Alessandro Guilino – electric bass; Geigenhof-Quartett – string quartet; Manfred Leuchter – accordion; Don Ross – dobro; Grischka Zepf ; electric bass; Ralf Gustke – drums, percussion; Lucile Chaubard – violincello; Lea Morris – backing vocals; Wojtek Bilimowski – violin; Hans-Jorg Maucksch – fretless bass; Martin Huch – pedal steel)

Girl With A Mirror is consistent with the reflective storytelling vibe. “The Silver Spring” has a Celtic folk vibe, with poetic lyrics. Spiritual overtones are present in songs like “God’s Upstairs” (with accompaniment from Beo Brockhausen/flute and the Geogenhof String Quartet). All of the additional instrumentation is subtle and complements the intimacy of the songs. Whether it’s a soprano saxophone (Brockhausen) on “Back Where You Belong” or violin (Wojtek Bolimowski) on “To Be There” the arrangements have a simplicity that surrounds the vocals. Lea Morris adds graceful harmony on many songs, including “To Be There”, “Now So Far’ and the title track.

Strephenson is an expressive songwriter who depicts life’s events with a touch of philosophical melancholy. “Lost Out On Below” delves into inner conflict, but does so with a gentle country swing. He expresses regret but not with despair. The overall SACD production is superior, especially on the guitar tones.

TrackList: The Silver String; God’s Upstairs; The Frozen Bird; Earthward Bound; Windmill Sails; Rainy Day Man; Back Where You Belong; I’m Not A Thing; To Be There; Now So Far; Girl With A Mirror; Playing Neptune; Only Everything; Eyes Will Be Open; Lost Out On Below

—Robbie Gerson