Tight Natural Productions, Associated Press
In this CD cover image released by Tight Natural Productions, the latest release by Stew & the Negro Problem, "Making It," is shown.

Stew & The Negro Problem, "Making It" (tnp)

"Making It" is a breakup album that gives voice to both sides of the story. Singing duties are shared by Mark Stewart (aka Stew) and Heidi Rodewald, an ex-couple responsible for the Tony Award-winning play "Passing Strange" who continue their creative collaboration with the band the Negro Problem.

There's lots of candor but no rancor as the couple contemplate heartache with humor rather than hostility. "Love is a great gig, but the pay is crap," Rodewald sings on "Love Is a Cult."

As usual, Stew mines a deep reserve of musical influences to frame his tunes in an engaging pop setting, with touches of jazz, rock, R&B and Broadway. The resulting blend is part Bacharach, part Magnetic Fields and all good.

"Making It" kicks off with a brief instrumental that sounds like the theme to a TV show. Then comes "Pretend," a paean for pop: "Songs are dumb, but they don't lie," Stew sings. Later topics include methamphetamine ("Speed") and racial stereotypes ("Black Men Ski"), but the focus is on romance gone awry.

"Therapy Only Works If You Tell the Truth," one song title concludes, and the album's highlight comes during dialogue to conclude that tune.

"When did you first notice there was a problem with the relationship?" a counselor asks.

"Oh, when she left me," Stew replies.

By the finale, "Treat Right," Stew and Rodewald have called a truce, and the album ends with them singing in harmony.

CHECK THIS TRACK OUT: Stew offers a twist to he-said-she-said on "Curse," when he and Rodewald take turns singing the same lyrics. The song rhymes nurse, hearse, worse, converse, terse and purse with curse — all in one verse.