Chris Ross saved up his pennies for the better part of six months, and in March, he flew to Nashville, Tenn., to record his debut solo album, “The Steady Stumble.” Though he had only parted ways a few months before his old, still much-loved band, Stiff Whisker and the Driftwood Kids, the time was right. The songs were there. And they don’t call Nashville “Music City” for nothing.
“The Steady Stumble,” a collection of soulful acoustic folk-rock songs, comes out of a period of intense creativity for Ross, culminating in that week in Nashville last month. Ross will have a record release party starting at 9:30 p.m. Saturday, April 30, at Ipanema in Bangor, and will perform and sign records at 6 p.m. Friday, May 6, at Bull Moose in Bangor. He also will perform at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 11, at Chummies in Ellsworth.
Ross, 26, is a soft-spoken Hancock County native, with a scruffy brown beard and a lonesome, gravelly voice reminiscent of Ray LaMontagne. With Stiff Whisker, he had achieved a level of success as a popular local band. But by September 2010, he was feeling burned out.
“I was burnt out in a way that comes from making great music for three years nonstop,” said Ross. “I decided back then to take a break and reassess. And then I started writing. I wrote more songs in five months than I had in five years.”
For the first time since high school, Ross found himself totally on his own; no band, no girlfriend, just himself and his music.
“It was a moment of looking at yourself and asking ‘What are you going to do next?’,” said Ross. “I felt like I had to do something big. Maybe it was kind of a gamble, but I’m glad I did it.”
After mulling over taking off to Asheville, N.C., or Austin, Texas, both small cities renowned for their music scenes, he decided on Nashville. Ross isn’t exactly a country musician, though there are country elements in his music. But Nashville is home to far more than just country musicians, and it’s also home to countless gifted studio musicians, who can take an album from amateur to professional in a matter of hours. Producers Jack Sundrud and Ben Strano made Ross’ songs sound warm, deep and nuanced.
“I was only there for a week, and we recorded the entire album in three days, and it was incredible,” said Ross. “The level of professionalism there is just unbelievable. It’s a city of hired guns. You can say, ‘Hey, I think viola would sound great on that song.’ And then two hours later, a viola player is in the studio. I learned so much.”
“The Steady Stumble” brings to mind Ray LaMontagne, certainly, but also the ragged, country-influenced grace of songwriters like Ryan Adams and the sensitive side of Steve Earle. Despite the raspiness of Ross’ voice, he can belt like no one’s business, as on songs such as “The Right Thing” or album opener “Singin’ To Find You.” He’s also a remarkably good lyricist, like on the candid, emotionally raw “New Years.” It’s an excellent first solo effort from a talented Maine musician.
Ross plans to play as many shows as possible this summer, throughout Maine and New England. He has taken the big step of having his music be his full-time gig — he quit his job at Pat’s Pizza in Ellsworth, with a friendly handshake and a promise to sell his album at the restaurant. Though he knows he has lots of miles to travel, he is feeling more confident about his music every day.
“The best feeling in the world is when someone knows your music, and can sing it back to you. That happens sometimes, now,” said Ross. “It’s a huge thing to know that you might not have to hear anybody yell ‘Freebird’ anymore. That’s big.”
“The Steady Stumble” is available on iTunes and at Bull Moose Music stores. For more information, visit http://www.facebook.com/songwriterross.
Follow Emily Burnham on Twitter at @rockblogsterbdn.