Critically acclaimed Americana country musicians Mike Stinson and Johnny Irion go way back. Like, 25 years back.
If you were in the San Fernando Valley in the mid-90s, you may have heard Stinson and Irion diligently studying elements of songwriting as they dissected the greats, actively curating a resonating sound of their own creation.
You may know Stinson from his prolific body of work, with his songs being released on albums by Billy Bob Thornton, Jesse Dayton, and Dwight Yoakam to name a few. The Houston Press said of him, “[Stinson] is the kind of songwriter who can upend the way you see the world with a single line, and whose lean, mean rock and roll machine of a band usually starts at a Chuck Berry gallop and goes from there.” Praise that is evident from the duo’s latest project alone.
Irion’s track record in the industry is nothing to sneeze at either, as he’s collaborated with legends like Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, Jeff Bridges, and John Goodwin among others. His solo album, Driving Friend, struck a 4-star rating from Sylvie Simmons at Mojo Magazine. Needless to say, each of these gentlemen are a creative force to be reckoned with on their own accord, let alone together.
In the midst of their individual successes, the duo has been chipping away at an exciting joint album, Working My Way Down, which is slated for a March 24th release. With the help of Stinson’s close friend and day job partner Andy Jones of the band Bigelf, the band penned each song to match their existing repertoire while bringing exciting new sounds to the forefront of their performances.
Now, 25 years later, and after Jones’ sudden and tragic death, the duo has reconnected to produce final recordings of these hidden gems. Decades of experience have only enhanced their skills and musical chemistry. Over the course of 11 songs, Working My Way Down brings listeners an auditory experience that was well worth the wait.
The album opens with electrifying guitar riffs and classic heartland harmonies on “The Bottle & Me,” which comes with its own good time havin’ music video. Getting to see Stinson and Irion in action brings another dimension to the album, as we get a peek into Irion’s classy home studio, and you can tell these guys have a great time jamming out together.
The title track, “Working My Way Down,” slows things down a bit. Written by Andy Jones, this tune brings listeners a taste of pure, soulful Americana. It blends an old school charm with a timeless reflection on time itself. Rich instrumentation holds space for the duo’s gentle melody as they sing lyrics like, “When I started I was way uptown / But I’m working my way down.” You can wait for the timing to be perfect, or you can take matters into your own hands. This duo opts for the latter.
Another notable track, “LA Cowboy,” is a tale of worlds colliding. Classic country instrumentals contrast lyrics about feeling out of place in a city that doesn’t quite understand its newcomer’s country origins. You may find success here – but at what cost – ending the song with a soulful, “And if I came here a dreamer / I will leave a honky-tonk man.” A nod to the bigger picture of two friends reconnecting over a project from years past, having done the rat race and finding comfort in their roots.
The album closes out with “Stranger Here Myself,” a rocking sendoff after all is said and done. “So if I’m destined to live in harness / I need some help getting through the darkness / I’m a stranger here myself,” they sing, admitting that no matter where you are or what you do, we’re all just figuring it out as we go. There’s an underlying feeling of comfort and safety throughout the album. Life is full of vices, choices, and reasons to say no, but it’s also rich with companionship and passion that propels you forward anyway.
Stinson and Irion have made quite a mark on the music industry, and their latest contribution in Working My Way Down is well worth the wait. Circle March 24th on those calendars.