Music

Album Review: Kendl Winter Races Ahead in ‘Stumbler’s Business’

Erica Keeling

I strongly suspect that the primary influence behind Kendl Winter‘s new album, Stumbler’s Business, is the waters lapping up against her houseboat on the Puget Sound. The tidal push-pull of Winter‘s finger-picking bluegrass banjo and her distinctive voice combine to form a collection of songs that are half lullabies and half wake-up calls. Winter‘s songs reflect on the past half-decade since she released a solo album: relationships that grow and grow apart, new moments of self-reflection and self-awareness.

Though Winter hails from Arkansas, she moved to Washington shortly after high school and has made it her home base ever since. The banjo player has spent the last five years as one half of the banjo/guitar duo The Lowest Pair with Palmer T. Lee, but you’d likely recognize her from her output of solo work on the label K Records. Stumbler’s Business is Winter‘s first release on Team Love Records, representing a new direction for Winter‘s music as a whole. Stumbler’s Business was produced by Joey Seward outside of Olympia.  Kendl’s voice and distinctive arrangements have earned her justified comparisons to Karen DaltonGillian Welch, and Iris DeMent.

The album is a stark folk affair, designed to break your heart and help you heal it. Winter writes, “Stumbler’s business is the business of falling and catching yourself or not. It’s about scraping your knees, climbing out of the piles, trying again, knowing that stumbling is part of growing, forgetting, learning again and again. Growing, groaning, happening in all directions, change is also stumbler’s business.

It’s also about building sandcastles despite the inevitable sea, loving because it’s all we can do to be here with each other. Sometimes we knew/know/don’t know how to be and then again learning how to be now and again, all of us fighting/finding our own rhythms in the tides. Or trying to learn how to live with ourselves beside each other and, you know, whatever. This is stumbler’s business.”

Winter brings an old-time roots sensibility to her music. Songs like “Pretty Saro” feel as if they belong to early times, a slow ballad to be performed by string bands of yore. But when we get to explicitly queer songs like the mournful “When She Did,” we realize we’re in relatively uncharted territory for roots music. It’s not quite accurate to call Stumbler’s Business a melancholy album, but it’s certainly one intended for contemplation. “Beaut We Beg” reminds us that as painful as change can be, that pain is ultimately what we need to grow.

Stumbler’s Business Track Listing:

1. “The River’s Will”
2. “Solitude”
3. “The Artesian Well”
4. “Pretty Saro”
5. “Beauty We Beg”
6. “Nebraska”
7. “Rise and Fall”
8. “When She Did”
9. “I See It Differently”
10. “Alone and I”
11. “Stumbler’s Business”

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Album Review: Kendl Winter Races Ahead in ‘Stumbler’s Business’