Review: Noah Kahan summons stick season and nostalgia

Noah Kahan, “Stick Season” (Mercury Records/Republic Records)

It’s the season of the sticks. It has been since July 8, when Noah Kahan released the first single and title track from his third album, “Stick Season.”

A cascade of controlled reflections on a changing relationship, the track sees Kahan liken his emotions to a pre-winter Vermont — when leaves have fallen but snow hasn’t settled, leaving tree branches just sticks. The lyrics are precise — “I’ll dream each night of some version of you / That I might not have but I did not lose” — and emotive — “Once called me forever now you still can’t call me back” — marrying honesty and relatability with ease.

Clips Kahan posted of the song on TikTok earned millions of views and covers he shared earned hundreds of thousands more, a testament to the accessibility of his words as listeners adapted them to their own stories or continued his. And while we’re not really there yet — in stick season, that is — the track foreshadows more than a time of year. It made clear that Kahan, an experienced songwriter and performer with multiple tours behind him, would take his lyricism to the next level on the album.

There’s a newfound maturity in his tone, a musical confidence that shines as he explores his vulnerabilities and doubts while exhibiting his growth.

Kahan’s relationship with his New England upbringing inspires the content and sound. That’s immediately clear on the album opener “Northern Attitude,” an unapologetic ode to the region featuring a plucked riff that builds to a rousing, layered composition. The same idea emerges even stronger on the thumping “Homesick,” where he belts with pride: “I’m mean because I grew up in New England,” and on the softer, almost conversational “Still.”

“She Calls Me Back” stands out, maybe because you can almost hear a smile emerge as he sings, a break from an otherwise mostly melancholy album. The chorus is almost too good to spoil.

Kahan’s vulnerability is centered on “Orange Juice,” about a friend’s sobriety, and “Growing Sideways,” about his own mental health journey. The stories these songs tell make it clear that Kahan — always a friend of folk — is fully at home in the genre.

On the pleading ballad “Come Over,” he whispers: “Someday I’m gonna be / somebody people want.”

There’s irony there because these feel like songs both longtime listeners and newer fans will want to belt back to Kahan — not because they’re produced for stadiums or arenas, but because they’re full of nostalgic melodies that will resonate far beyond New England.

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