After spending time with Christopher Paul Stelling's third album, Labor Against Waste, I expected a certain intensity to his performance. But I didn't expect him to nearly implode behind my desk, as the fierceness of his heartfelt songs was set against deft fingerpicking on his beat-to-hell '64 Gibson gut-string classical guitar. That guitar, bought in Asheville, looks like a well-worn friend, with its dark bruised wood and his initials hand-carved into its body. Stelling marked the instrument a year after he bought it, when he made New York City his home in 2007.
By the time he played "Horse," his third song at the Tiny Desk, Stelling seemed overtaken by the song he wrote. Watch him lean in as if he's about to lunge, his eyes bugged out, sometimes rolled back in his head revealing just the whites, skin blood-red, voice like a preacher on fire. His music feels undeniable: Best witnessed live, it's steeped in tradition yet filled with vitality, immediacy and soul — all the reasons worth discovering someone new.
- "Warm Enemy"
Producers: Bob Boilen, Maggie Starbard; Editor: Morgan Walker; Audio Engineer: Brian Jarboe; Videographers: Maggie Starbard, Colin Marshall; Assistant Producer: Morgan McCloy; photo by Morgan McCloy/NPR