Gabe Stillman – Just Say the Word
Vizztone Label Group 2021
15 Tracks; 62 minutes
Gabe Stillman’s impressive talent as a guitarist has caught people’s attention ever since the Berklee School of Music graduate was a finalist at the 35th Annual International Blues Challenge and was the recipient of the Gibson Guitar Award. But on his latest album, Just Say the Word, he also demonstrates excellent songwriting skills and beautiful vocals, with an increased chest resonance in his voice that leads to a more mature and soulful sound than before.
Listeners to this album will be treated to a wonderful lineup of guests, including the incredibly talented young keyboard player, Taylor Streiff (formerly of the Nick Moss Band), the Texas Horns, Sue Foley (on guitar and vocals), Greg Izor (on chromatic harmonica), and Anson Funderburgh, the album’s producer. The combination of guest artists, along with the variety of song styles and arrangements makes the album intriguing from beginning to end, and throughout the album, Stillman’s pure and emotive guitar style shines through.
There are plenty of “love gone wrong” songs on Just Say the Word, including “No Time for Me,” which states that “ever since the world began, a hard-headed woman has been the thorn in the side of a man”, “No Time for Me,” and the Elmore James-inspired opening song, “Give Me Some Time,” which notes “What’s the matter now, baby, am I not good enough for you? Tell me the truth now darling is it because I play the blues?” Fans will be rooting for Stillman’s assertive limit-setting in “I Ain’t Gonna Change,” where he declares “You can love me for who I am, or you can get out—because I ain’t gonna change!”
Stillman also tackles some heavier topics, such as the trauma of war in “No Peace for a Soldier,” and the pain people cause others in “Let it Go.” In that song he poetically advises “Sometimes when you’re hurting, life has no more grace. You can almost hear them laughing with that smirk on their face. You can almost hear those hollow words as they reverberate, and it breaks down the walls around your soul. It’s alright, girl, let it go.”
Stillman wrote (or in two cases, co-wrote) thirteen of the tracks, and the album also includes two powerful covers. In his version of Brook Benton’s “I’ll Take Care of You,” he wisely alters the timing and phrasing from how it was performed by Bobby Bland, to avoid too close of a comparison with that highly unique singer. His cover of Bill Wither’s “Friend of Mine” is also excellent. Stillman’s one entirely instrumental song, “Susquehanna 66” will likely get even non-dancers up and moving.
There are no real flaws in this album, although some listeners might find it a bit startling that he ends the album with a very bluntly written song that is half spoken-word about the baggage and negative self-statements people tend to carry in their heads. He notes “The next time you’re about to judge someone else, step back and think. We’ve all got our bullshit, people, and don’t think that yours doesn’t stink.”
Fans can trust that any album produced by Anson Funderburgh will be great, and Just Say the Word is no exception. Listen to it and you’ll see why Alligator Records Founder/President, Bruce Iglauer has described Stillman as “one of the most promising young blues talents on the scene today”, and has stated that Stillman’s “talent has grown by leaps and bounds over the last couple of years—don’t miss him!”