Tunes & Ballads
By Bambi Grinder
Published February 5, 2021
Cover art by Tuesdee Zoldy | Photos courtesy of Tim Stafford
Tunes & Ballads is the fourth solo record from the remarkably gifted guitarist and songwriter Tim Stafford. The lonesome beauty of this album immerses me in a state of intense feeling, particularly the instrumental tracks. And though I love—and often prefer—instrumental music, writing about such, sharing my thoughts in words for that diaphanous gateway to pure feeling is something else entirely. A daunting task. However, listening again and again to Tunes & Ballads, I am inspired to meet the challenge.
After all, it’s not everyday one receives an invitation from Tim Stafford to review his album.
Photo courtesy of Bristol Herald Courier
The stylistic perfection and superb pacing combined with Tim’s vocals, at once robust and melodic, create an arching span of space and time, connecting us to our planet and to our heritage as human beings. From the stunning “Sunny” to the achingly beautiful “Galapagos” to the haunting and surprising “London Town” (who would have thought something about Jack the Ripper could sound so lovely), Tunes & Ballads will carry you away into nostalgias, perhaps for a place and time you have only imagined and can never experience for yourself. Such is the power of music.
The stylistic perfection and superb pacing combined with Tim’s vocals … create an arching span of space and time …
Listening to this album, I am transported back to the days of my youth, to a period of time when I was fascinated with the history of the American West. When I was in love with the movie Lonesome Dove and read everything by Louis L’Amour, particularly Sitka, which I read again and again.
During that time, I even tried writing a western novel myself. I haven’t thought about that period of my life for a while, but “Wild West” took me right back there. I considered when I lost my fascination with that time of our history and the sadness surrounding that personal journey. So it seems Tim has harnessed the power of nostalgia for not only places and distant times, but ones within ourselves as well.
Photo by Kim Miller
Among my favorites from Tunes & Ballads is the soulful and atmospheric “Galapagos.” It evokes a sense of wonder and sweeping majesty. Though the piece itself may not have been based on anything particular, the yearning artistry captivates me and conveys me to that place of wind and wave, stone and fauna. A place I have never seen. There is a delicate quality to the song that mirrors this ephemeral and precarious location on our home world. A reminder that nothing should be taken for granted. Whether it is part of our day to day is irrelevant. We live in a world of wondrous beauty that we must appreciate. It deserves our care no matter our particular location upon it.
Photo by Kim Miller
I listened to the exquisite “Pale Blue Dot” many times before I read Tim’s words about it in our 20:20 Q&A with him. I think about our planet, its tiny place in a vast universe, quite often. Space and time, in fact, are never far from the forefront of my brain, so it was only natural for me to imagine our precious home Earth from afar as I listened to this poignant song. It captures the elusive feeling of the fragile balance of an entire interwoven and complex biosphere of an unknowable number of lifeforms all alone in an isolated solar system. If this doesn’t give us pause for a moment of reflection, I’m not sure what will.
“Pale Blue Dot” captures the elusive feeling of the fragile balance of an entire interwoven and complex biosphere of an unknowable number of lifeforms …
Consider further how the brevity of “Pale Blue Dot” mirrors our own fleeting existence. The span of human history, indeed all life on our planet, coalesces into a single evanescent spark in an ocean of time that stretches far beyond us. Another reminder, if one is needed, not to take a single moment for granted.
Finally, when I read Tim’s own words about the composition—as if he was describing exactly what I felt—that was a “Wow” moment.
‘Pale Blue Dot’ … had that aching sort of sadness that appeals to me. It reminded me of the photo of Earth taken by Voyager as it neared the outer solar system that Carl Sagan mentioned in his book Cosmos. From that immense distance, the Earth and everything we had ever hoped, feared, or thought of and everyone who had ever lived and died was contained in one tiny speck. The thought should bring us all together at times when we are concentrated on petty differences.
My co-founder Dale said concisely, “‘Pale Blue Dot’ is sparser than ‘Galapagos,’ with the guitar—pure Tim—flying the melody out front of a wisp of accompaniment.”
What beautiful imagery to couple with this perfect arrangement.
Other tracks will immerse the listener in their subtle grandeur, particularly “Shenandoah Valley Blues” and “Arizona Tears.” “Sail Away to See the World” and “The Marks” especially overflow with emotion. And as I mentioned before, “London Town” creates a curious juxtaposition of horror with a most lovely and inviting sound. Take a moment, or more, and listen to Tunes & Ballads by Tim Stafford.
You may discover something you didn’t know you had forgotten.
Pale Blue Dot
About Tim Stafford
Tim Stafford was born and raised in Kingsport, Tennessee. His mother’s Browder side of the family is musical, and his twin sisters play piano and sing. After starting out on drums, Tim discovered bluegrass in the mid-1970s as a freshman at Ketron High School and became a banjo player. He switched to guitar in the late 70s and became a member of several groups, before co-founding Blue Highway in 1994. The band is one of the most decorated and influential in bluegrass history, having been nominated for 3 Grammys, winning a Dove Award, and nearly 30 IBMA Awards. In March 2016, Blue Highway was named the most popular bluegrass artist in history in an online poll by Bluegrass Today.
To learn more and buy stuff, visit https://www.timstaffordguitar.com/home
Writer and Editor
Co-founder/owner of NoteWorthy Music, Bambi Grinder has spent many years as a shaper of words—writing novels and short fiction (which she prefers in first-person present tense). Bambi is delighted to make this foray into the digital landscape with NoteWorthy Music as publisher, editor, writer, and web designer and developer.
You may contact her at email@example.com.
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