Stephen Clair – The Presentation of Self In Everyday Life
This is a daring effort by a Beacon, NY singer-songwriter (Pete Seeger lived there) who creates his mix of Americana, alt-country & independent rock & doesn’t employ a full band to create his musical scenarios. Stephen Clair plays solo guitar, sings & adds a rickety piano. Why am I saying this? Because some of the best down-to-earth music isn’t always big production showcases but spare tales with memorable words in small, short stories that a listener can relate to.
These 11 assertive tunes that make up The Presentation of Self In Everyday Life (Drops Nov 17–Rock City/29:00) were recorded by Stephen Clair in the Rodeo Room. It’s a spare event with no thunderous drums, blaring horns, or thumping basses. It does have spirit, as you would hear it live, seated in a comfortable chair on an old carpet with a wine bottle between his legs.
This is Stephen’s 10th with no multi-tracking. It has an atmosphere. He doesn’t attach any agenda – no political asides, no controversies, just subjects/topics that listeners can relate to. The opening tune is that rickety piano & then Mr. Clair’s deep voice in a formidable Dead Can Dance – Brendan Perry tonality. Ominous, dark with waters of untested depth. It was a short melody & that’s what made “Pizza & Fairy Tales,” compelling.
Switching to a thinner punkier voice in a Lou Reed narrative style Clair strums his spare guitar with attitude on “I Died On the Crosstown Bus This Morning.” I could hear the Velvet Underground cover this with Maureen Tucker’s martial beat & John Cale’s whining violin filled with angst & tragedy to add up to a provocative piece. Most grunge/punk bands can’t achieve this with a full band.
Despite the quality of the performance the only thing that dilutes the effort is that the tunes might sound to some listeners as demos. Many do buy LPs filled with half-finished songs, demos, outtakes & live concerts that weren’t recorded on quality equipment. So, the interest in these songs will still be positive. But what about that audience that has the attention span of a housefly?
Getting back to that Brendan Perry/Nick Cave tone with a Jim Lampos intonation, Stephen really grabs the ear with “The World Has Changed,” & “Come For the Winter” he should explore that more because it’s an engaging singer-songwriter style. Clair is a distinctive singer. He has cohesion in his compositions. His work isn’t as striking as Springsteen’s “Nebraska,” but he is on the right track.
Highlights – “Pizza & Fairy Tales,” “I Died On the Crosstown Bus This Morning,” “Watering the Flowers,” “The World Has Changed” & “Come For the Winter.”
Color image courtesy of Stephen’s website gallery & Hillary Clements. CD & music samples @ Bandcamp + https://www.stephenclair.com/
Enjoy our previous coverage here: Key to the Highway: Stephen Clair