Stew with Heidi Rodewald.
Stew with Heidi Rodewald. Enriko Boettcher
Stew's Something Deeper Than These Changes album cover.
There's a tradition in popular music of combining grown-up topics with sophisticated wordplay and melodies so pretty they're almost incongruous. Cole Porter, Noel Coward and Randy Newman come to mind. Stew, a 42-year-old musician from Los Angeles, probably doesn't. NPR's Neda Ulaby says along with clever lyrics, sweet melodies and an even sweeter voice, Stew adds funk and psychedelic music to the mix.
Stew, whose real name is Mark Stewart, grew up singing in a Los Angeles Baptist choir. He relocated to New York to dabble in experimental theater, and spent much of the '80s and '90s exploring the avant-garde scene in Berlin and Amsterdam before heading for L.A.
The singer describes his take on music as a "kitchen sink pop approach." He says there's always a little bit of "Afro" in his music, and a little bit of church and blues. He says he wants his listeners to always wonder what instrument he'll bring next.
On his latest venture, Something Deeper Than These Changes, Stew — together with producer Heidi Rodewald and his band The Negro Problem — gets personal. Ulaby says he's devoted songs to women on past albums, but this time it's different. Stew serenades his mother, who died last year, on Love Like That, and — although he thought he'd never be able to write about his daughter — he does that very thing with The Sun I Always Wanted. He writes:
So Happy Birthday Bibi, it's so good to have you here. / You bring more joy with every passing year. / The sun I always wanted smiling sweetly night and day / Even the clouds have to say / Hooray/
Musical portraits such as this aren't confined to Stew's most recent album, or limited to the people in his life. Send him 20 facts about yourself, or someone else, and for a price Stew will write a song. Think of it as a heirloom, from Stew, to you.