Reviewed by Doug Freeman, Fri., Aug. 24, 2018
Justin Stewart's immaculate and playful pop sensibility belies the punch of the songs on third LP Renaissance. The songwriter bounces through piano tunes sparked by a stellar local backing that includes Bukka Allen, John Michael Schoepf, and Geoff Queen, but like Harry Nilsson, the result rings deeper than the surface waggishness. Opening triptych "Texas Fatmucket," "Saint Paul," and the title track spin out Stewart's scratchy drawl, languid wordplay, and surprising melody twists. "Lucynda" lilts with galloping rhythms that evoke early Paul Simon, while "Nod of Knowing" sweeps the country dance hall floor and "Jesus #9" kicks like John Prine. Even the cover of Don Williams' cheesy "I Believe in You" works with Stewart's style, especially next to deep album gem "Yellow Umbrella." With Renaissance, Stewart steps up into an elite tier of local songwriters even if his eclectic sound makes him difficult to pin down.