For their first Mountain Home Music Company single, ace songwriting colleagues Steve Gulley and Tim Stafford have chosen "Still Here," a bleak yet ultimately poignant portrait of a man trapped in a life away from the only place he feels at home.
"I love the money but I hate this town / Every day I'm here just wears me down," Gulley sings in weary tones, as the song shifts from its hushed, moody opening feel into the solid bluegrass rhythms of the first chorus and its downcast conclusion: "Costs me more than this place will ever give me / But here I am...still here."
With a searing fiddle solo by ace studio musician Ron Stewart (who also contributes banjo) that perfectly captures the narrator's mingled bitterness and resignation over Stafford's muscular, mournful guitar rhythms, bassist Barry Bales' steady pulse and the brisk groove of mandolinist Thomas Cassell (Circus No.9), "Still Here" offers a polished, musically sophisticated yet viscerally emotional reading that serves to reintroduce the duo in their first joint project in a decade. Both men are renowned performers in their own rights - Gulley as an esteemed singer and hitmaker with his own Steve Gulley & New Pinnacle, Stafford as a founding member of Blue Highway and an influential guitarist - but have only one previous recording together to their credit, 2010's Dogwood Winter.
"This is one man's regret at living so long somewhere he didn't want to be," says Stafford of "Still Here." "And despite everything he's endured, including his homesickness for Appalachia. But I think it can be generalized to anyone who feels out of place."
"I think a lot of people can relate to the story in the song," adds Gulley. "Most all of us have had times when we've felt out of place and missed home. I know I have."
And circling back to the title, Stafford concludes, "Despite it all, he's still here."