From The Athens News, October, 2006:
"[Bob] Stewart ... doesn't make music to bang your head to; his songs are subdued, subtle ruminations set to gentle, sparkling folk music.
He's a fine acoustic guitar player, and his band's arrangements, also featuring lead guitar, bass, harmonica, and occasional sprinklings of harmony vocals and mandolin, are never too busy.
His voice won't blow you out of your Birkenstocks, but it's a good voice, warm and honest and well broken-in, kind of Tom Paxton-y.
His lyrics are well crafted without being overtly arty, and tend to cluster around poignant topics of love and loss.
Working this territory, you run the ongoing risk of slipping from poignancy into mush, but Stewart mostly keeps his feet out of the goo.
One song that could easily have been unbearable, but ends up quite touching, is "Old Lovers' Lament," a mournful evocation of the old age that humbles and crumbles us all in the end.
The merits of this quietly satisfying album have been partly overshadowed by its title tune, which Stewart wrote to commemorate 14 Marines from Ohio who were killed in Iraq.
He released the song on the Internet in February, to mark the six-month anniversary of Ohio's "Day of Mourning" for the soldiers, and thousands of people from around the world have visited the site to listen to or download the tune.
The song was recently cited by the Rhapsody online music service as one of the most significant new releases of the week in the "Americana" musical genre.
It's a simple and affecting number, avoiding any overt political message about war to focus on the personal impact of loss.
"Today we stopped to say goodbye to our children who fought and died/ Far too young and too alone a million miles away from home," Stewart sings, over a soft, marching drumbeat, gospel call-and-response backup vocals, and a swelling chorus that includes Stewart's own children. It works.
While the title tune may be getting most of the attention, the rest of teh album is well worth a listen too." By Jim Phillips, Athens News Senior Writer.
From The Athens Messenger, August, 2006:
“Chalk up another fan of Bob Stewart's music.
Stewart's voice, like his music, is sometimes a little too smooth and soothing. That's not meant to undercut the fact that his new CD "A Million Miles Away from Home" is also very good. The album is folkishly laid-back and says something important at the same time.
The disc gets off to a bright and hopeful start with "Your Love." The song, along with most of the album, manages to not sound contrived, a tall order for most folk music these days. The record is no slice of bittersweet Americana. Stewart is an old guard singer/songwriter. He recalls the best days of James Taylor and John Prine without aping either songwriter's style.
"One Emotion" could be a cross-over radio hit if it weren't so darn good. It's a slow dance-worthy number that features local studio whiz Chris Weibel on organ.
The fast-moving jazz shuffle of "Bit Phat Baby" is exciting, even though it's named for Stewart's overweight cat.
"The Goodbye Song" is a surprisingly relevant and engaging song about change, especially since Stewart penned the song 30 years ago.
Stewart has much to say and the listener longs to hear him better. Some tracks are just a bit too busy with harmonica, drums, multiple guitars, and the like. Stewart's singing sometimes just gets lost. "Can We Ever Be the Same" is an otehrwise great song that is obscured by too much harmonica. Overall though, Stewart's backing band is tastefully subdued. The mandolin is fantastic, especially on "I Never Knew Lonely."
Stewart's unique solo guitar take on the Christian Doxology is featured on "The Doxology."
The title track's interesting take on a patriotic hymn is pleasantly not heavy-handed. The inspiring track was written as a way to cope with the cost of war. Stewart wrote the song remembering the death of 14 Ohio marines in Iraq -- the same deaths that inspired Ohio's Day of Mourning. Stewart's low rumble is beautifully augmented by a choir of soulful background vocals.
With "A Million Miles" Stewart has managed to write 12 beautiful songs [*] -- 12 more than most musicians will ever write. It's thoughtful music that isn't pretentious and feel-good music that isn't shallow. As Stewart says in "Your Love," the CD actually 'made me realize it's good be be alive.'”
* Elliot Abrams wrote "The Storm"
From The [Post] Insider, June, 2004:|
“The past few years have seen the Athens music scene predominantly inhabited by alternative rock groups and jam bands, but The Bob Stewart Band has been presenting a softer and more nostalgic tone since their inception.
The band began when vocalist and guitarist Robert Stewart, an Ohio University journalism professor, joined guitarist Elliot Abrams to perform at open mic sessions at The Donkey. The duo since has evolved into a full band, including bassist Greg Bikowski, harmonica player John Ortman and vocalists Susan Quinones and Jeff Smith.
The band’s sound is described as folksy and mellow, drawing influences from acoustic pioneers James Taylor and John Prine, according to the band's Web site. That sound recently has begun to garner a solid and unconventional following.
‘I bring something for the older crowd. It’s a different niche from what most bands offer,’ Stewart said. The Bob Stewart Band has head-lined at local venues, such as The Blue Gator, O'Hooley's Pub, and The Donkey. The band also is gradually changing its musical direction to fit the larger venues and crowds. While maintaining their folksy roots, The Bob Stewart Band is incorporating blues and soft rock into their sets to appeal to a larger fan base. ‘We’re branching out now. We’re playing blues and expanding,’ Bikowski said.”
The band has begun covering songs, such as Carlos Santana’s ‘Black Magic Woman’ and The Credence Clearwater Revival’s ‘Heard it Through the Grapevine’ with this aesthetic in mind.
Stewart also is preparing to release his first studio album, ‘Don’t Think You Know,’ set to be released June 11. Though the album is a solo effort by Stewart, various members of his band and other outside musicians also contributed to the work. ‘It does have a different feel than the live feel,’ Stewart said. ‘Most band members contribute, but not in the same way they usually do.’
Stewart said he is including new instruments like the mandolin, pedal steel and lap steel guitar to provide a new eclectic approach to his songwriting.”
From The Athens News, June 10, 2004:|
“[Stewart’s] affinity and admiration for James Taylor’s ‘Sweet Baby James’ comes across strong in the album, and while this flavor holds the record together, Stewart is not afraid to include varying genres.
The first track, titled ‘All Over Again,’ leans heavily on Taylor’s ‘Fire and Rain,’ while the next track (‘That’s Not What Dancin’s For’) carries a mandolin-heavy, virtually bossanova beat. Stewart’s instrumental abilities have unquestionably been honed and sharpened extensively.
Mid-album offerings include ‘Walkin’,’ with an extended instrumental introduction, showcasing the harmonica skills of John Ortman.
‘Penny From Heaven’ offers an instrumental piece with an impressive end melody using harmonics.
The album shows a concerted effort toward light production, with heavy emphasis on the intricacies of Stewart’s voice.
In songs like ‘Fare Thee Well,’ the production quality allows for subtle nuances to show through.
The mid-song introduction of a melancholy cello line adds depth and echoes the natural movement of Stewart’s voice.
Musically and stylistically, the album is strung together in a refreshing balance of consistency and variation.
The bulk of the album was written in 2002 and 2003, but also includes two songs from earlier in Stewart’s career.
‘Moody Blue’ was written in 1972, while ‘Shadow Boxer’ was penned in 1977.
Stewart successfully combines songs without disrupting the album flow. Gritty electric guitar and lyrical portions of ‘Moody Blue’ give away its era, but the album hangs together relatively well.
The highlight of the album comes close to the end.
‘One Last Day to Cry,’ ironically the most upbeat of the songs but with the most melancholy lyrics, surprises the listener with a dynamic flow and engaging experience, while ‘Summer Song’ deals with a touching tribute to inevitable exit.”
From The Athens Insider, June 3, 2004:|
“Bob Stewart’s ‘Don’t Think You Know’ is, at its most memorable points, a solid display of intricately ornate guitar work and heartfelt sentiments.
Highlights include the pretty, Jim Croce-ish ‘Fare Thee Well,’ a delicate song, encased in impressive guitar and cello parts, that makes good use of Stewart’s light singing voice.
Perhaps the album’s best track is the gorgeous instrumental, ‘Penny From Heaven,’ a needed showcase of Stewart’s technical prowess and knack for emotionally gripping progressions.”
From The Post, May 27, 2004:|
“Bob Stewart’s new solo album, ‘Don’t Think You Know,’ is a composed amalgamation of folk, soft rock and ballad.
The album is simultaneously charming and subtle with its understated melodies and rich instrumentation....
In addition to cameos from Athens band mates Elliot Abrams (guitar), John Ortman (harmonica), Jeff Smith (backup vocals) and Susan Quinones (backup vocals), Stewart has employed the talents of various outside instrumentalists.
Pedal/lap steel player John Borchard and mandolin player Zeke Hutchinson provide new textures and sweeping harmonies to the proven folksy mix.
Stewart himself has stated that an older crowd has always appreciated his music and that students have a tendency to compare his music to the style their parents enjoy.
While James Taylor, Jackson Browne and John Prine are rarely heard pumping from subwoofers on campus, assuming this music to be too quiet or lackluster for Generation Y would be an underestimation.
After all, for every Linkin Park or Lostprophets fan there’s a Ben Folds, Guster or Kenny Chesney appreciator with “The Graduate” soundtrack in their CD deck.
Songs like “Fare Thee Well” and “Summer Song” embrace the gentle aesthetic of the album, highlighting Stewart’s colorful arpeggios and voice.
Stewart’s voice is pristine and subdued throughout most of the album, which is appropriate for his relaxed style....
Stewart’s “Don’t Think You Know” is a surprisingly good album to come from the local music scene.
It underlies competent, mature talent that provides 45 minutes of masterful folk.”
From The Athens Insider, March 17, 2004:|
“The Bob Stewart Band, led by [Bob] Stewart, has a mid-’70s feel, heavy with a James Taylor sound. Stewart has a soothing, unoffending voice.
It’s a serious hobby, Stewart said of the band, which he noted makes him feel alive and allows him to be creative.
Having been involved with music since he was nine, Stewart made a recording in the late ’70s, and says it would be wonderful to have a record now, to capture what they’re doing.
But, as much as he loves music, he doesn’t want to depend on it for his livelihood, he said. He said he loves teaching, and enjoys the lack of pressure that comes with depending on music for an income.”
From Athens News, April 12, 2004:|
“... Bob Stewart [and] Elliot Abrams ... are ... professors who find time amid the rigors of their profession to unwind with some good, old-fashioned rock ’n roll....
For Abrams, love of his job as a professor of anthropology mirrors his love of music. ‘Being a professor is a creative activity and so is playing in a band.
It’s just a different type,’ says the 50-year-old, who plays lead guitar along with Stewart in the Athens-based Bob Stewart Band. Stewart, the band's namesake and lead singer/songwriter, says that he and Abrams began playing together for fun when they met in the summer of 2002.
He says the band, which has four other members, evolved one-by-one over the years and even included some of Stewart’s former students before settling on its current lineup.
‘I don’t ever let somebody in the band who’s (currently) in one of my classes because that wouldn’t be appropriate,' he adds. Stewart, who grew up in Thailand as the son of missionary parents, says he began playing guitar at the age of 9. He initially got his start playing in church but later frequented open-mics and even made some recordings in the late 1970s. Currently, he is involved in recording two other albums that are solo endeavors but will feature the Bob Stewart Band on several tracks. Stewart, 46, cites James Taylor, whose music he enjoyed in high school, as the band’s main influence, and says they prefer playing in coffeehouses like Donkey Coffee to doing shows in uptown bars.
‘It’s not dance material,’ he says.
‘It’s music that we really want people to sit there and listen to.’
Originally a music major in college, Stewart gave up his ambitions of writing music for movies to pursue a communications major.
He says he has no plans to take the Bob Stewart Band on the road but confesses a secret dream of traveling the country playing open-mics after he retires.
‘It would be really fun if one of my songs got picked up and used in a movie because it would be like full circle,’ he adds.
While Stewart says it took him a while to find a way to fit music in with his workload, he acknowledges that the right balance of work and play actually helps him in his day job.
‘I’m a much happier guy, and I think I’m a much better teacher,’ he says.
‘The energy that I have at work is better energy than if I were to be here all the time.’
Stewart says some of his students know he’s in a band, but in general he tries not to be too forward about mentioning the fact.
‘I think you have to be careful in my position not to make students feel like they have to show up or else they’re in trouble,’ he says.”