The way Chris Stamey tells it, “One day in 2015, an old piano arrived at my home, with a bench full of magic: songs by Jerome Kern, George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, Henry Mancini, Irving Berlin, Leonard Bernstein … many more. I fell head-first under their spell, awakening three years later with a long white beard and this collection: 26 songs on two CDs, written and arranged ‘under the influence,’ performed by some of my favorite singers and players.”

On June 28, 2019, Omnivore Recordings will release the resultant 2-CD set, New Songs for the 20th Century.

Vocalists on the two volumes of this lush, orchestrated, jazz-flavored outing include jazz legend Nnenna Freelon, pop icons Marshall Crenshaw, Don Dixon, and Caitlin Cary (Whiskeytown), North Carolina stalwarts Skylar Gudasz and Brett Harris, and exciting newcomers Millie McGuire, Kirsten Lambert, and Faith Jones. Highlights include Django Haskins (The Old Ceremony) and renowned saxophonist Branford Marsalis together on the Irving Berlin-like overture “Manhattan Melody (That’s My New York),” and rising-star pianist Ariel Pocock singing “There’s Not a Cloud in the Sky.” Cary adds a bit of Americana into the mix, with “Your Last Forever After.” All are backed by the “ModRec Orchestra” (named after Modern Recording, Stamey’s studio home base in Chapel Hill, N.C.) with Bill Frisell, Nels Cline (Wilco), and Matt Douglas (Mountain Goats), as well as N.C. jazz virtuosi soloists Stephen Anderson (the Dominican Jazz Project), John Brown, Will Campbell, Jim Crew, and Dave Finucane taking turns at the microphone.

Inspired by the canon of the Great American Songbook but with Stamey’s own distinctive melodic and lyrical twists (familiar to fans of the dB’s co-founder), New Songs for the 20th Century uses Mid-Century Modern harmonic and lyrical inflections to evoke an earlier era. “I was intrigued by reimagining those decades right before The Beatles appeared, before President Kennedy was killed,” Chris explains, “when it seemed like the world was looking around, catching its breath, and wondering what was to come.

“What came first here was the sheet music, the notated chords and melodies. I’d write out the songs in silence, then simply put the sheets of paper in front of the players and singers. It was fascinating to hear them bring the tunes to life in the studio in ways I’d never expected. Then I would orchestrate for strings and winds as needed, connecting the dots in the old-fashioned way records were made before Leo Fender came along.”

Included are also full-length, remixed performances (not previously available) of several songs from the nationally broadcast holiday radio musicalOccasional Shivers, including “Beneath the Underdog” (titled after the Charles Mingus autobiography), “In-tox-i-cho-cli-fi-ca-tion,” “What Is This Music That I Hear?” and McGuire’s standout ballad, “I Am Yours.” And there are even new versions of a few older Stamey tunes that seemed to want to sing along, such as Faith Jones’s powerful “In Spanish Harlem” and Cline’s and Frisell’s dreamscape treatment of “Insomnia.”

Chris adds, “North Carolina is known internationally as a place Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Nina Simone, and Billy Strayhorn all once called home. But recording this record showed me, without a doubt, that a similar dedication and pursuit of excellence still persists here, today.”

About Chris Stamey:

Chris Stamey has participated in indie music of all stripes since the 1970s, as both a musician and a producer. In 1976, he self-released Sneakers, one of the very first American indie records. The following year, he relocated to New York to play and record with Alex Chilton in the burgeoning CBGB’s rock scene, then started Car Records in 1977. That same year, he formed The dB’s with fellow Carolinians Will Rigby, Gene Holder, and Peter Holsapple, and they made several acclaimed records, including Stands for deciBels (self-produced) and Repercussion (produced by Scott Litt). His recent albums include Lovesick Blues and Euphoria,as well as Falling Off the Sky with the dB’s. As a producer, he has worked with Ryan Adams, Alejandro Escovedo, Flat Duo Jets, Skylar Gudasz, Tift Merritt, Le Tigre, and Yo La Tengo. Since 2010, Stamey has been musical director for an international series of concert performances of Big Star’s classic album Third, alongside Big Star’s Jody Stephens, Ray Davies, Kronos Quartet, members of The Posies, R.E.M., Teenage Fanclub, Wilco, and Yo La Tengo; Thank You, Friends, a concert film of these arrangements, was released in March 2017. His original jazz radio play about the early ’60s in Manhattan, Occasional Shivers, premiered nationwide on Christmas Day 2016. A “songwriting memoir,” A Spy in the House of Loud (Univ. of Texas Press), was published in 2018.

Track and Singer Listing:


1 Manhattan Melody (That’s My New York) Django Haskins

2 It’s Been a While Django Haskins

3 I Don’t Believe in Romance Caitlin Cary

4 What Is This Music that I Hear? Kirsten Lambert

5 Occasional Shivers Nnenna Freelon

6 On the Street Where We Used to Live Brett Harris

7 On an Evening Such as This Kirsten Lambert

8 Your Last Forever After Caitlin Cary

9 There’s Not a Cloud in the Sky Ariel Pocock

10 Dear Friend Millie McGuire

11 Insomnia Kirsten Lambert

12 I Am Yours Millie McGuire


1 I Fall in Love So Easily Millie McGuire

2 Beneath the Underdog Marshall Crenshaw, Don Dixon, Django Haskins

3 In-tox-i-cho-cli-fi-ca-tion Django Haskins

4 In Spanish Harlem Faith Jones w/ Brett Harris

5 The Woman Who Walks the Sea Kirsten Lambert

6 For a Muse Django Haskins

7 Lover, Can You Hear Me? Skylar Gudasz

8 Pretty Butterfly Millie McGuire

9 I Didn’t Mean to Fall in Love with You Kirsten Lambert

10 Life Is But a Dream Matt McMichaels

11 And I Love Him Kirsten Lambert

12 Unpredictable Millie McGuire & Presyce Baez

13 I Lost Track of the Time Django Haskins

14 Occasional Shivers (reprise) Presyce Baez

The ModRec Orchestra:

Will Campbell (alto & soprano sax)

Dave Finucane, Elijah Freeman, Branford Marsalis (tenor sax)

Matt Douglas (flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, tenor sax)

Bill Frisell, Scott Sawyer, Chris Stamey (guitar)

Stephen Anderson, Jim Crew, Wes Lachot, Julian Lambert, Chris Stamey (piano)

John Brown, Jason Foureman (acoustic bass)

Dan Davis (drums)

Karen Galvin, Katelyn Hammel, Laura Thomas (violin)

Matt Chicurel, Emi Mizobushi, Aubrey Keisel (viola)

Leah Gibson, Josh Starmer (’cello)

Written, arranged, mixed, and produced by Chris Stamey