Review: Toiling in Tragedy… Pop Auteur Ken Stringfellow and Author Joe Puleo Pull Triumph from Tragedy

Ken Stringfellow/Ken Stringfellow Imagines Puleo – Ten Years To Home/To Be of Use Music
3.5 out of Five Stars

Videos by American Songwriter

Ken Stringfellow’s career has been marked by any number of high profile associations—The Posies, Big Star and R.E.M., among them—but his latest endeavor may be his most daring venture yet. It finds him joining forces with author Joe Puleo on a five song EP, ostensively inspired by Puleo’s writings about the late track and field champion Gabriele Gruenwald and her courageous battle with the cancer that eventually killed her. Remotely composed and crafted while in quarantine, the songs also feature Posies drummer Frankie Siragusa filling out the arrangements. 

Despite the otherwise somber subject matter, the songs come across as jubilant, joyful and flush with the pop perfect sound that’s marked Stringfellow’s music since the beginning. I’m the strongest man in town, but I don’t lift weights, he claims on “Strongest Man in Town,” an homage to devotion and dedication. “Measured in Threes” adds the perquisite reflection and remembrance, a soaring piano ballad that resides at the emotional core of the EP. In truth, none of the songs, save closing track “Not Today,” deal directly with Gruenwald or her struggle. Rather, Puleo’s lyrics document his divorce and struggles to recoup his optimism and emotions in its aftermath. Consequently, the percolating “My Odyssey” borrows from Homer’s epic poem while sharing the story of Puleo’s struggle to find emotional equilibrium, while the rocking and rollicking “Overcoming Gravity” details his determination to find solace and satisfaction when those objectives sometimes seem out of reach.

Nevertheless, the most moving moment comes with the spoken narrative shared in the opening moments of the final track, “Not Today.” I hope that people see that you can still make something beautiful and powerful out of a bad situation. It’s a fitting epitaph, one which echoes with resilience throughout. The title is taken from the words Gruenwald spoke when told her disease was destined to end her life. Populated with platitudes and encouragement, it shares a recurring refrain that mines an overall connection and conviction. It’s an emphatic ending to a truly impactful set of songs that still manage to resonate even within the deepest depths of despair.

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