Stephen Clair – To The Trees
Now living in Beacon, NY where Pete Seeger had a spread for years Stephen Clair (vocals/guitar) isn’t singing about troubled people, Covid, or other negative paint-by-number scenarios. Instead, his focus is on his own backyard where he lives in a 19th-century corner homestead (a former general store).
His 9th LP of 12 songs To The Trees (Drops May 20–Rock City Records) provides where he is musically today. Clair says inspiration comes through books read by authors such as Samuel Beckett, Dorothy Parker & E.B. White. Clair isn’t inventing new music but he does attempt through his own creative endeavor to squeeze out drops of originality from uh…old scores.
He’s a good entertaining likable artist of the metropolitan troubadour stripe. This set was recorded in Marlboro, NY. Stephen writes in an old-fashioned structure on this effort. The title track “To The Trees,” is good with its sonic production, a jaunty melodic organic performance which is a mix of Sam Leno (“Ordinary Man”) & other singers who weren’t afraid to dip a big toe into nostalgic styles like Leon Redbone.
What’s interesting is Stephen’s ability to not let the tune slip into retro-sounding material. The arrangement/performance is ambitious though the recording production itself on this song could’ve been a bit brighter.
No matter, because with “Let It Out,” it’s corrected. A good-natured, cheery rocker that’s not innovative but it’s loaded with charm wrapped up in an arrangement that Ray Davies of The Kinks would have done. His tunes are an extension of himself with a touch of Davies’ ageless ingenuity which Clair also equally displays.
The whole collection is relaxed in its assortment of vintage well-tailored Tin Pan Alley (not Brill Building) oldies. They need no dusting off since they were never delivered originally. They’re still in the box, brand new, wrapped straw & shiny. “Not You,” is impeccable. I could see & hear Hoagy Carmichael sing this at his piano with his trademark wooden match or toothpick in his lips. The Dixieland-type piano strides cleanly throughout the melody with brass pouring out the notes like long drips of honey.
You don’t have to be an old person to appreciate the gentle exceptional skill that it takes to write such simple songs with perfect arrangements. Mix a little Cole Porter in with Harry Ruby. Motivated he creates an atmosphere of a bygone era that knew how to dilute its troubles & dance.
Musicians: Lee Falco (drums/backing vocals), Will Bryant (keys/backing vocals), Brandon Morrison (bass), Brad Hubbard (baritone sax) & Jeff Fairbanks (trombone).
Some audiences will embrace Mr. Clair since he at least knows that some of the past is still with us – if you listen close.
Color image by Michael Isabell @ from Stephen’s website. The CD is available @ https://www.stephenclair.com/