Christopher Paul Stelling

Christopher Paul Stelling (Clarence K. Photography / September 11, 2012)

Christopher Paul Stelling

w/ Brian Dolzani. Free. 9 p.m., Sept. 12. BAR, 254 Crown St., New Haven,,


As Christopher Paul Stelling recalls how he acquired his first guitar — a hand-me-down received at 8 or 9 by way of his father — he takes a moment to correct himself. “It was a nasty old — beautiful; it wasn't nasty, it was beautiful — classical Spanish guitar that my grandmother's uncle had bought in Spain during World War I. It's really old. I still have it actually,” Stelling, now 30, says. “It's not the one I play regularly because it's a little too fragile, but it was just kind of funny. I was told I could play that, and immediately, I was like, 'Oh, I want an electric guitar. I don't want an old, classical, nylon-stringed guitar. That's not cool.' I still played it because this is what I had, and I eventually did think it was cool. 20-some years later, that's what I play now: a nylon-stringed guitar. Things have a tendency to come full circle. Sometimes, it just takes you a while of being stubborn.”

This satisfyingly compact anecdote speaks to Stelling's preference for observation and self-reflection — two interests that serve him well on Songs of Praise & Scorn, which was released in February. Armed with a full singing voice imbued with a curvy Southern twang, the Daytona Beach-born, New York City-based musician places his stories of wanderlust and redolent imagery over careful arrangements and powerful strums. He traces his musical lineage back to his parents' taste for 1970s folk artists — Jim Croce, James Taylor, Jackson Browne — but Nirvana (specifically, In Utero) is what made a serious impression on a preteen Stelling because it was “loud” and “wasn't glossed over like everything else that was out at that point” that he knew about. After a stint on bass in a “heavier band” in high school, he was in his early 20s when he began consuming and learning about the music that would shape what he plays today. Thanks to working at a used bookstore and a used record store, he began delving into Skip James, John Fahey, Robbie Basho and Nick Drake. “What the fuck did I know?” Stelling says. “I was a 20-year-old kid, so I learned.”

That assertiveness pops up throughout this conversation. After I ask him about the move from loving Nirvana to playing music that's so dissimilar, he politely but firmly disagrees with the question's premise. “I don't actually think that there's that much difference,” he says, noting that Kurt Cobain listened to Lead Belly and old folk. Stelling speaks of coming of age when “punk was dead,” so he found his love for truthful storytelling in “real folk.” He's “bored usually by singer-songwriters, even though I happen to be one” and strongly believes other people were crucial in helping to get him where he is today. (Definitely not a Romney fan.)

Decisiveness and determination have paid off in other ways, too, as Stelling has been playing a hundred shows a year for the past couple of years. “Five years ago, I really didn't think that I'd be driving around the country being able to share my heart with people, so that's a blessing. I don't think you can get much further than that,” he says. “If you had asked me five years ago, right where I am right now is exactly where I wanted to be: just kind of getting by, talking to people like you. Somebody's going to call you and ask you about what you're doing? That's amazing! How lucky is that?”