Photo Credit: Dustin Condren
Comedy legend Carl Reiner used the term “The Hey May” to identify the moment at the beginning of a half-hour sitcom where they would introduce the episode’s premise and (hopefully) compel viewers to stay tuned (i.e. men who saw it would yell “Hey May!” to their wives and invite them to come watch). This general principle can just as easily be applied to rock albums, as it’s fundamentally the job of opening track to draw the listener in (and unlike TV comedies in years past, which were competing with four or five other channels, music fans in 2019 can instantly click over to one of literally millions of other listening choices).
Thus, “The Hey May” of Stay Wild should be its title track, as it opens the debut album by Joseph LeMay, who is professionally known as SONTALK (maybe having a stage name stylized in ALL CAPS is actually his “Hey May”). The song has an intriguing enough piano ballad but in the second half, a couple of guitar solos appear like pop-up ads, and it all winds down to an a cappella rendering of “Home on the Range.” Generally speaking, “Stay Wild” is neither particularly wild nor anything that would prompt listeners to stay.
Fortunately, Stay Wild the album lives to fight another day and emerges with musical guns blazing on the very next cut, “I Am a War Machine.” The first single was a wise choice. It’s a catchy and relaxed tune that has already been drawing comparisons to the band the War on Drugs (which leaves you to wonder whether the title is purely coincidental). The tight and thoroughly enjoyable acoustic guitar/synth hybrid “Baby I’m Gone” then continues the record’s uphill trajectory.
The back-to-back placement in the track listing of songs with the titles “Hosanna (God, Damn My Soul)” and “Jesus Honey (God, I Hate You Sometimes)” would outwardly suggest that Stay Wild means to get into some seriousness of Biblical proportions, at least thematically. Musically – if nothing else – the former is a heartfelt mid-tempo tune that builds up to a nice, climactic instrumental break. The latter is an admittedly compelling examination of the way that we’re taught to interpret Christian ideals versus the conclusions that we draw on our own.
Most of Stay Wild is not quite as heavy-handed, although results throughout are consistently mixed. The two-minutes-and-change track “Ca Va & Ces’t La Vie” comes off as filler, but when SONTALK goes back to the piano for “Hurt You”, the result is a strong and solid traditional rock ballad and, “One Day It’s Gonna Break” is possibly the album’s most musically layered and thus fully realized track.
The imagery in the lyrics of “One Day It’s Gonna Break”: “Walking through my hometown // Trying to block the past out // Washed-up prom queen, damned up heartstring”, would probably remind listeners of Bruce Springsteen or John Mellencamp. Numerous elements would also suggest the influence of the late John Lennon throughout Stay Wild is difficult to miss. The key of the title track sounds very similar to “Imagine”, many guitar parts are unapologetically Beatles-esque, and title wise, “I Am a War Machine” sort of recalls “I Am the Walrus.” Need more? Lennon had a song with the (much more to-the-point) title “God,” while the final cut of SONTALK’s debut is called “Julian”, the name of Lennon’s son.
Even if this all amounts to a bunch of “Paul Is dead” clues which ultimately mean nothing (or only what we want them to), Lennon’s legacy – even in terms of just his solo career – would still obviously be a difficult one for anyone to live up to and probably not what SONTALK is even aiming for, at least not this early on in his career. Still, as a whole Stay Wild presents Mr. Joseph LeMay as a very promising songwriter, producer, and musician. SONTALK may not yet be at the point where he’ll have people TALKING but it’s a sure bet they’ll at least be talking.