Invisible Lines makes an apropos title for the solo debut from JM Stevens. The Austin-based songwriter who fueled Moonlight Towers through 15 years, four albums and thousands of miles criss-crossing the country on shoestring tours has a knack for tapping the intangible elements of pop songcraft that elevate the enduring from the ephemeral. When he’s not playing solo or recording artists at his studio EAR, you might find him playing guitar with Craig Finn on the Hold Steady frontman’s European tour, or filling in for his brother, Blind Melon guitarist Rogers Stevens, on some dates in South America.
The universal theme of longing provides a cohesive thread to Invisible Lines. Opener “Runaway Stare” summons upbeat resilience in the face of soul-crushing forces that “leave you nothing but dreams of a new life.” Steel guitarist Marty Muse from Robert Earl Keen’s touring band adds to the doleful indecision of “Further I Run,” while “Maybe I Love You” basks in the warmth of Springsteen-style horns arranged by saxophonist Russell Haight. The record was recorded quickly, so as to capture a “live” energy, and features bassist Andrew Duplantis (Son Volt, Bob Mould, Meat Puppets) and drummer George Duron (Roky Erickson, Jon Dee Graham, Dumptruck).
What Stevens leaves out of his songs is almost as important as what he puts in. There’s no instrumental derring-do or insular lyricism. He’s wise enough to know not to let musical ego get in the way of a good hook. Stevens would rather have you humming along and connecting with the songs on your own emotional terms.