The Stellas Are Indie-Cool, Mainstream-Friendly

thestellasThe best thing that happened to The Stellas was not winning the recently-completed second season of CMT’s Can You Duet. As fourth place finishers, Canadian couple Marylynne and Brad Stella stand to reap the benefits of major national exposure without being locked into a deal with Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine Records, an association which would likely not be in their best artistic interest anyway.

As evinced by the self-titled digital EP they released about a month before their Can You Duet debut, The Stellas are actually far too cool to be labelmates to Taylor Swift. It would be a disservice to shoehorn them into that money-centered, artistically-stilted environ.

That’s not to say that they don’t have commercial potential, because they do. In particular, the two songs on which Brad takes the lead (“Ridin’ in the Back Seat,” “Make It Last”) could easily be mainstream hits; the former, a surprisingly affecting spin on the theme of watching kids grow up, was performed by the duo on the show. Brad sings in a hushed, slightly raspy style often favored by rockers gone country.

The real surprise is Marylynne, who sounds a bit stronger on record than she did on the show (perhaps a matter of nerves, which the judges mentioned a few times). She’s a folk songbird at heart, so her contributions take the duo’s sound in somewhat more of an alt direction, more Patty Griffin than Reba McEntire. On The Stellas, she proves herself a capable and impressively versatile vocalist: piercingly honest on “Fine Soon,” jaunty on “Life of Riley,” locked and loaded on “The Game,” broken on “Woe Is Me.” With Brad joining in on harmonies, this hardly sounds like a debut EP, much less the debut of an act you would discover on a television singing competition. There’s a whole lot of confidence – and competence – on display here.

Which isn’t to say that there isn’t some room for improvement. In particular, it sometimes seems like The Stellas have found a cool groove in search of a slightly more memorable lyric. While that might cause songs to bleed together over the course of a full-length offering, it’s less of a problem on this abbreviated set – which is, as far as digital EPs go, one of the best I’ve heard.

While The Stellas have mainstream potential, I think it’s potential for crossing over to the mainstream rather than an indication that they should live there permanently; I hope they’ll find a home at a supportive indie that will shop singles to radio while allowing them to do their own thing (the Joey + Rory Sugar Hill deal, if you will). As The Stellas EP makes clear, they’ve already got themselves figured out pretty well. No focus groups necessary.

Download the album from Amazon MP3

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  1. Leeann says:

    Downloading as I write.

  2. Chuckles says:

    I’m sure they have no interest in making money from their music, unlike that obviously completely money-centered and lacking in any artistic ability whatever Taylor Swift. Of course they’ll stay indie no matter what mainstream chances they get, because no one in their right mind would ever want to see their music or artistic endeavors spread to as many people as possible. These two are full of so much potential we should keep glossing over the areas they are lacking until they become so indie no one hears of them anymore.

    • C.M. Wilcox says:

      Point taken on the artificiality of the mainstream/indie distinction, but as for this

      These two are full of so much potential we should keep glossing over the areas they are lacking

      This is an introduction to the act, not one in a long series of glowing posts about them, so it’d be rather difficult for me to keep doing anything with regards to The Stellas. Further, it’s filed as a Recommendation (not a Review), so obviously my take on it will be favorable. Yours doesn’t have to be. What specifically do you feel was glossed over?

  3. Kelly says:

    This year, as with last year, I was really impressed with the talent on this show. Again also, I liked 2 of the final 4 duos very much. The Stella’s were great and i look forward to seeing more of them soon hopefully. I am not sure that a Judd’s reunion itself wouldve out-performed Steel Magnolia on this season, though…

  4. plain_jo says:

    I really like the Stellas, and i downloaded their EP several weeks ago. I am glad they were on the show otherwise I might not have heard of them. I thought JB Rocket sucked!……but then I don’t care most top 40 either so…. there ya go.

    • Nicolas says:

      Its pretty clear after 2 seasons that Naomi Judd takes special preference to the male duos… and that she leaves the female duos out to dry

  5. J.R. Journey says:

    I disagree, Nicolas. Last year, it came down to 2 male/female duos and Naomi sang the praises of both of them, going so far as to appear in Joey + Rory’s video.

    I watched this series from the beginning of last season – never missed an episode thanks to my trusty DVR. I have been impressed with the talent on this show too – it’s always better than Nashville Star. I thought last year was just a step above this year’s crop, but definitely still some promising young singers. I was pulling for Ryan and Avalon myself, but I wound’t have been disappointed with any of the final 3 male/female duos. I never could get into JB Rocket. They almost impressed me when they did ‘Neon Moon’, but something about the way the skinny one conducted himself on-stage made me want to look away. He was just too flamboyant with his moves and all over the place in general – like he had ADD or something. He could have used some coaching on his stage presence, or lack thereof. I just didn’t think much of them.

    But Steel Magnolia (I knew they’d win after it got down to the final 4), The Stellas, or Ryan and Avalon either one could have took the title and not disappointed me. I’m not sure any of them have mainstream appeal in country music though.

    And while both duos are incredibly talented, Caitlin & Will or Joey + Rory have yet to break through, so I am doubting that CMT can actually make country stars out of any of these pairings.

    • Leeann says:

      Did Steel Magnolia sound different on the show than on their first single, because I think this first single sounds pretty mainstream, really.

      • C.M. Wilcox says:

        They sounded a little different on the show, but they were among the more mainstream duos – although not as thoroughly contemporary as JB Rocket, who were, as seems to be the consensus around here, quite wretched. Steel Magnolia strikes me as more mainstream rock than anything else… not sure about their countryness.

        I liked Ryan & Avalon too. Hope they’ll get a deal or something out of it.


  1. [...] California’s C.M. Wilcox believes the best thing to happen to The Stellas was not winning the recently-completed second season of CMT’s Can You Duet. [...]

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