Jody Stecher, that musical wunderkind (in spite of his now-white hair), has finally released an album of all-original songs and tunes. He said he got brave enough to do this when folks started asking him not “Did you write that song?” but “Where did you learn that song?” I use the word meaning “wonder child” not only because Jody is such a formidable player on so many instruments (guitar, mandolin, mandola, and banjo), but also because, like a kid, he still loves to play, and that joy comes through on Wonders & Signs.
Not that all of these compositions are happy. The disc opens strong with “Five Rode Up To Phoenix,” a tribute to the late Forrest Rose, Jody’s bandmate in Perfect Strangers who died at a jam session after a gig. A “true song” in the finest bluegrass tradition, the chorus laments: Five rode up to Phoenix, but four rode down next day. Then there is “Fly Away Home,” undoubtedly the most heartbreaking, yet ultimately joyous song on the CD. No one who has endured the pain of a parent with dementia can remain unmoved after hearing: All of your children holding you tight/Shepherding you from roaming the night…I don’t want you to die/I just want you to fly.
Figuring out Jody’s words can be challenging. Some are strange (“Kabul Grinder”??) and at times he makes them march (“The Southwest Train.”) Fortunately, his website resolves all difficulties and provides origins and explanations—well worth a click of the mouse if only to get a clue about the “generally misinterpreted” “Osama’s Pajamas.”
A cast of fine musicians supports Jody on this project: long-time partner Kate Brislin, Keith Little, Paul Knight, Chad Manning, Eric and Suzy Thompson, and Bill Evans. Some selections are full-band numbers, others feature just Jody with guitar or banjo. Wonders & Signs is not a collection of songs you are going to absorb in a few absent-minded listenings. This is an album that keeps on giving. Dive in, listen closely, and ponder the question Jody asks in “Waterloo”: How many futures exist side by side? That should keep you busy! (Jody Stecher, 133 Lake St., San Francisco, CA 94118, www.jodyandkate.com.) MHH