Mick Sterling: Nothing Less Than Everything
Mick Sterling's first three releases, all recorded with the Stud Brothres, featured expansive arrangements that allowed the horn players plenty of room to stretch out. The band sometimes dabbled in jazzy instrumentals, or hard-edged rockers such as "I Want His Job", (from Lets Do Things To Each Other), but they gained prominence in the Twin Cities with their particular brand of rhythm and blues, which mixed the funk of James Brown soul with the sound of Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. Come Home, the groups 1994 live release, captured the essence of their stage performances and highlighted a typical set's playlist: a bright instrumental, a stirring cover tune, (the powerful version of the Van Morrison classic, "In To The Mystic"), and several songs penned by Sterling and various writing partners. The title song was arguably the best they ever recorded, and by all accounts resonated the most intensely with their enthusiastic followers.
Those fans will be thrilled with Sterling's solo release, Nothing Less Than Everything. Like Come Home, the new songs explore the connection between lovers, the importance of emotional commitment, and the consequences of breaking the pact couples make to forsake all others. This focus on intimacy is reflected in the music: although the Stud Brother Horns sit in on a few songs, Sterling replaces the power of the full ensemble with smaller, quieter settings that showcase his voice and lyrics.
Much of Nothing Less Than Everything evokes the irresistable pleasures of the '60s and '70s Stax/Volt sound. With Sterling trading verses with Renee' Austin, the catchy"Who Got To You Before Me", recalls the 1975 Paul Simon/Phoebe Snow duet "Gone at Last", while a heartfelt version of The Band's "It Makes No Difference" suggests a doleful Joe Cocker.
Nothing Less Than Everything, the CD's thematic centerpiece and its strongest upbeat track, melds the Philadelphia Sound with an exuberant marriage proposal ("If you want to share my soul/Close the deal with this little ring"). Confronted with arguments against romantic commitment, Sterling insists that making and keeping a promise to give Nothing Less Than Everything to the relationship will allow the pair to overcome the suspicion that past heartaches will return ("The chains some say will bind us/are the sames chains that will set us free").
Making a committment is one thing, but keeping it is another matter entirely, and the fear of succumbing to seduction swirls through the CD's darker songs like a wraith. "Something is telling me/I'm one mistake away from losing you," Sterling sings in "I'm Afraid", a gospel-tinged cry from the soul. The desperate confessor of the plaintive "Something For The Pain" is tormented by his his inability to be faithful and finds no comfort in the idea that time will make it all okay: "I've betrayed you countless times/I'm afraid I'm not through," he laments, as the Tongue N'Groove Rhythm Section crackles and smolders in the shadows.
This wiser, more mature perspective on love colors the entire CD. In"I Am The Rock", written by former Stud Brothers Rob Arthur and Emanuel Kiriakou, Sterling is supported by Craig Anderson's Hammond Organ, and complemented by a duo of back-up singers on a metaphorical examination of the ways lovers affect each other over time ("We keep on wearing each other down/Cause you are the water/I am the rock). The slow-dancing "Instead of Making Love (can I just hold you tonight)" asserts the importance of spiritual intimacy ("I'm your lover, but tonight I need a friend") and portrays a love ever stronger, ever deeper as time goes on. "Betting Man" takes a detatched view of temptation and considers the cost of infidelity: "Theres no question we would burn," the singer grants, but surrendering to desire would mean "losing it all." "Good thing I'm not a Betting Man," he concludes wryly.
The CD closes with a decidedly hopeful look toward the future. "I Expect You
(to expect a lot from me)" is a rocking affirmation of the value of openess
and respect that will undoubtedly whip any crowd in to a frenzy. In contrast,
"When We Become Lovers" is a laid back jam session that blends spoken asides and
laughter with a sing-along chorus that resonates sweetly long after the song
has ended. "It might be hard to defend/when we babble like all our
friends/wearing those wedding rings," Sterling sings, but there's clearly no
doubt that the fear of commitment dissolves in the presence of true love.
Nothing Less Than Everything proves that the payoff is well worth the risk.