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Music review: 'Water Wars'
Dale Stewart’s “Water Wars” is best heard without expectations. If you’re hoping for a sneering, breakneck wall of noise fitting the founding member of Fresno’s best-known hardcore band, you’re gonna be let down.
That’s not a bad thing. It’s actually what makes the album work. The 14-tracks here represent seven-years of writing and recording with several collaborators — including long-time bandmate Joceylin Fedrau. And that’s what you hear; a progression, an artist finding his place in a music scene that all but abandoned him.
I was too young to catch Capital Punishment in its heyday (or any day, actually). When I first met Stewart, around 2002 or so, he was gigging in a band called Backstory. It was a conceptual trip through punk-rock history that covered everything from the Ramones (“Chinese Rock”) and Dead Boys (“Sonic Reducer”) to Link Wray (“Rumble”). There is a recording, though it isn’t widely circulated. If you can get one in your hands, it’s a great listen.
“Water Wars” isn’t either of those.
First: It isn’t punk—at least not in a strictly musical sense. The closest we get is the 40-second “Itty Bitty Tax Cut,” which cracks through with a certain intensity. The rest of the songs come off with a folksy Americana feel. This is more Dylan than Biafra. Still, most of the tracks are chock full of Stewart’s left-leaning roots. “I Threw a Shoe” is an upbeat ode to George W. Bush. “Buying Stock,” takes a run corporate America with lines like “a coporation is not a person.” “40 Train a Day” is about rail consolodation. “Starve the Rich” talks taxes, and “Governator” ... well, that one’s obvious.
The middle of the album takes a deviation from the political and delivers some of its strongest tracks, including a cover of “Sukiyaki” and two great originals “From the Start” and “Say Too Much.” “Little Dude” is lyrically the silliest song on the album, but shows Stewart’s skill as a song writer — it’s got a great harmonies and a certain down-home country-western charm. The final two tracks (both instrumentals) highlight Stewart’s guitar work and his knack for layering instruments in production.
“Water Wars” isn’t perfect, but it’s honest and that is refreshing.
This is where Stewart is right now. He’s not the guy he was during the ‘80s when the hardcore scene was raging. So, he isn’t writing those songs. He’s writing “Water Wars” an album that leaves you with a sense that there is more to come. When it does, it’s gonna be awesome.
You can see Stewart live (playing as Dale and Jocey) at the It’ll Grow Back record-release show, Aug. 5 at Tokyo Garden.