Stephen Egerton - The Seven Degrees of Stephen Egerton
Release Date: May 18, 2010
Record Label: Paper+Plastick
Make no mistake: just because this album highlights the efforts of a punk rock guitarist does not mean it's a 75-minute, self-indulgent concept record built around psychedelic jam sessions and splashy solos. Stephen Egerton is one of the definitive pioneers in the pop-punk world, playing with both Descendents and ALL. When the focus wasn't on Milo Aukerman or the revolving door of frontmen that ALL went through, many believe Egerton built their legendary sound. The punk rock equivalent of Santana's recent efforts, Egerton tinkers with the idea of writing 16 different songs with all sorts of well-known punk rock vocalists. It not only enables him to collaborate with different styles, but gives Egerton the chance to space out his talents over 46 minutes with several multi-talented folks.
The reason this album is mostly enjoyable is due to the who's-who lineup Egerton has put together. An impressive array of big-name vocalists (Dan Andriano! Tim McIlrath!) and guys we may not have heard from in ages (Bill McShane! Mark Vecchiarelli!), it makes for a fun listen to see how Egerton and guest star play off one another, whose style they fluxuate more with, and so on. In case you think this is Supernatural, the punk version, I smite thee to punk rock purgatory! This is the Stephen Egerton Show, and you oughta realize that he's done 90% of the work here. All the instruments are played by? Stephen! All the music is written by? Stephen! All the lyrics are written by? Stephen! All the coffee was made by? Probably an assistant.
Egerton refuses to paint himself into any particular corner here, and with the guidance of his wife pushing him to write stuff he's never done before, he comes up with some interesting songs. Egerton also owes a debt of gratitude to the vocalists who complete his tasks, unintentionally making some of his likely challenges greater than he hoped for. Both Jon Snodgrass (Armchair Martian/Drag the River) and John Moreland flex their cowpunk muscles and add a small dose of country flair to their respective tracks, and Jon Speck (The F*gs) and Chris DeMakes (Less Than Jake) make their songs sparkle with glam-rock intent (note that Vinnie Fiorello, drummer for LTJ and owner of P+P, co-wrote the lyrics to DeMakes' song). MxPx's Mike Herrera delivers what is surely one of his best vocal performances on "Cut Me Down to Size," a song Egerton penned about getting his ass kicked. When not busy being a rad scientist, Milo Aukerman re-recorded an old song Egerton had initially given to his wife as a Christmas gift, with vocals done by former ALL vocalist Scott Reynolds. "She's Got Everything" is practically an instant-classic, just due to hearing Aukerman jubiliantly sing over a powerpop melody. Rise Against's McIlrath brings a dose of light-hearted appeal to "South For the Winter," and can someone give me an 'amen' for Bill McShane? The guy is a hell of a performer, and "Never Again" shows that he's still just as lovely as he was when making music with (the highly underrated) Ultimate Fakebook.
For songs that don't feature well-known vocalists, it's important for Egerton to really boost his rocket shoes and launch that puppy into the stratosphere. "On the Avenue" is one of the record's best cuts, and Jesse Cole does a fantastic enough job to make me want to look into his band In Stereo, who I'm not familiar with. That's precisely the type of impression a record like this can be expected to make, almost as a sidebar compliment to what effectively works here. "Where They Roam" features the super talented Joey Cape, but lacks a real charm; oddly enough, it's the only track that doesn't quite fit with the rest. Abe Brennan is another vocalist many (including myself) might not recognize, but his track "Willie Wicked" is certainly the most haunting & hypnotic cut here. Detailing the slow demise of a serial killer, Brennan lavishes his spot on the record, and closes out the album on a supremely impressive note.
It's quite something to hear guys like Tim McIlrath and Dan Andriano participate on this album, especially seeing how busy they must be being all popular and stuff. Just goes to show you how close-knit the punk community is, and that even when some get bigger than others, they can still help out the guy who started it all -- and what Stephen Egerton has done here is special. Sixteen different vocalists of various talent, some bigger names than others, making it their goal to work as hard as possible to ensure their friend releases something special. For those clamoring to hear the crooning of those Egerton used to frequently work with, or just to hear someone you know & love stepping away from their day job, Seven Degrees is an exceptionally fun record that adds another layer to the legacy of punk rock's most indelibly talented axeman, and features no cameos from Rob Thomas or Michelle Branch.