Blind Nello Records

Max Stalling has always sounded like he was born with an old soul, wry and calm and melancholy, a modern-day Tom T. Hall laconically nudging out a niche for himself amidst a sea of Waylon/Springsteen alpha-male wannabes. His modest aspirations are spelled out in Banquet‘s opening track, “Night’s Pay in My Boot.” It’s not the smoothest cut on the shelf, but valuable as a statement of purpose; Stalling coasts atop Lloyd Maines’ impeccable steel guitar-laced production with his mix of well-read perspicacity and regular-guy observations. A collection of short stories dressed up as a traditional country album with narratives woven into engaging shuffles (“Last Dog,” “Convenient Lovers”), waltzes (“Freedom for Mary”), and swing (“Little Apone”), Banquet is as classy and satisfying as its name implies. Stalling even sets aside his songwriting reputation to cover a couple of less-than-obvious influences: Doug Sahm’s “Beautiful Texas Sunshine” and the Beatles’ “Two of Us” hold up great in the care of a confident singer and producer who both know how to respect a song. — MIKE ETHAN MESSICK