Personnel: Ken Stringfellow (vocals, guitar, autoharp, mandolin, piano, organ, omnichord, keyboards, synthesizer, vibraphone, drums, cymbals, guiro, tambourine, percussion, programming); Ken Stringfellow; Emily McIntosh (vocals); John Roderick (acoustic guitar); Sarah Edin (violin); Phil Peterson (cello); Tiffany Wilson (vocals); Pelle Halvarsson (cello, Theremin); Craig Flory (saxophone, tenor saxophone); Mark Taylor (alto saxophone); Jay Thomas (trumpet); Chris Stover (trombone); Larry Knechtel (piano, electric piano, organ); Jill Sobule, Bill Rieflin (drums); Gaffa Man, Sarah Shannon, Matt Harris, Jorgen Wall, Darius "Take One" Minwalla.
Audio Mixers: Ken Stringfellow; Kip Beelman; Scott Colburn .
Recording information: Ironwood, Seattle, WA (11/06/2004); Mr. Small's Funhouse, Millvale, PA (11/06/2004); Qrispy Qreme, New York, NY (11/06/2004); Soundhouse, Seattle, WA (11/06/2004); Studio 44, Stockholm, Sweden (11/06/2004).
Photographer: Bootsy Holler.
Arranger: Phil Peterson.
Ex-Posies frontman Ken Stringfellow returns for another round of intricate pop/rock confections with the FM-ready Soft Commands. This time around, the singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist broadens his horizons with forays into Burt Bacharach soft rock, soul, and even dub. Writing and recording all over the world -- New York, Senegal, Stockholm, Seattle, Paris, Vancouver, and Hollywood -- Stringfellow has concocted a frustratingly obtuse record that's as beautiful and bold as it is shapeless and erratic. Soft Commands plays like a compilation, taking on Jackson Browne pop ("You Drew"), experimental reggae ("You Became the Dawn"), and heavily orchestrated Phil Spector bliss ("When You Find Someone") with varying results -- the latter sounds like a sequel to the Walker Brothers' 1966 classic "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore." Stringfellow's crystal-clear vocals have always been among his stronger attributes, and they couldn't be any better on tracks like the gorgeous and epic closer "Death of a City," but when he attempts a multi-note soul croon on the bluesy "Let Me Do," the cool confidence that rings true within the confines of his pop material is rendered shaky and thin by a milieu he may be better off appreciating from afar. Soft Commands is full of the intricate arrangements and clever wordplay that power pop fans have come to expect from the artist, and nowhere is that more apparent than on the serpentine rocker "Don't Die," a heavy, complex, and blissfully Posie-esque rumination on death that requires several listens before attaching itself to your brain like a remora to a shark. It's a reminder that despite the occasional deviation, Stringfellow is still capable of balancing beauty and danger within the confines of the four-minute pop song, and for fans of melodic rock everywhere, that's a damn good thing. ~ James Christopher Monger
Uncut (p.102) - 3 stars out of 5 - "[T]he bulk of SOFT COMMANDS is given over to rolling, near-baroque piano balladry..."
Mojo (Publisher) (p.116) - 4 stars out of 5 - "Sounding like lost transmissions from classic '70s AM radio, it's Stringfellow's best yet."