September 10 2019
by Big Takeover Exclusives
Stephen Clair – Photo Credit: John Moore
Singer-songwriter/musician Stephen Clair is set to release his latest album, Strange Perfume, on October 11th via Rock City Records.
In an era where most media has a certain easy sheen about, and where rough edges, attitudes, and perceptions are made to be easily digested while you’re probably in the middle of doing six other things, Clair is dropping a potent album that reminds us, in part, what rock and roll is about.
Clair first came to prominence when WFUV got behind the single “Jen In Her Underwear” from his 2003 second LP release Little Radio. Clair has continued making records since then, some in the singer-songwriter mold, some punk rock, and some twangier. There are a few things that hold all of those records together:Clair’s wicked way with words, his penchant for a hook, and a big rock and roll heart.
Strange Perfume is darkly joyous, raving, sneering, lusty, and thrilling. Clair’s songs have always possessed a wry humor. Rave-up rockers veer into stormy seas and back again, while dystopian concerns are made bright with gnarly guitar hooks and Clair’s thunderous and able rock band just kicks it up. Just give us one more night to rock our bleary faces off, and be swept up in it
And this vibrantly ringing album title opener sets the tone. The Big Takeover is pleased to host the premiere of its accompanying video that was directed by Jon Slackman. Bookended by a rousing performance by Clair and his band, the video focuses on a wrecked and ruined building that most likely once housed various families.
Slackman pans through the leafless trees growing unchecked outside (and even inside!) the building and then follows the wanderings of three strangers who end up crossing paths there, amid the graffiti-tagged walls and glassless windows.
The song itself is a driving rock ‘n’ roller pushed by emphatic drum beats and hard-hit piano notes. Cycling guitar lines and tambourine jingle fill out the sound while Clair lets out his lyrics with a casual vocal sway.
Clair goes into the backstory of the song, explaining, “The end of the world doesn’t smell quite right, does it? If civilization is truly so doomed, and we’re all too distracted to do anything about it, maybe we could just sleep together. You know, one last hurrah after another.”
That’s the teasing sentiment of “Strange Perfume” from the Malcolm Burn –produced album of the same title. “We’ve gotten so good at ignoring our lousy relationships, our unresolved feelings. It’s become so easy in the digital age. Just ignore everything!”
In a lot of ways, Stephen Clair is the kind of citified troubadour that the roots songwriting world needs these days - a writer who can celebrate his influences without trying to be them. He shares James McMurtry's poetic gift for plain but literate lyrics, a certain tongue-in-cheekiness with Townes Van Zandt and the ability to spin a yarn like Greg Brown. But there's also a bit of the bohemian to him, a bit of the old NYC that Clair thankfully doesn't hide under the pretend cowpoke jargon that many of his contemporaries do. Instead, he allows the noise and the gray of New York to seep into the sun-drenched hominess of his songs. He comes out of the gate strong on Under The Bed with the opener "Gone Ten Years," an ode to a grandfather that brings a stutter to the heart of even the crustiest music critic. Throughout, Clair proves himself a strong and witty lyricist, and his startling vocal similarity to James McMurtry gives his phrasing a wryness that allows even the starkest of phrases a bit of perspective and light. —Clay Steakley
With a laconic drawl thats part concrete sidewalk and part muddy road, this observationalist singer/songwriter is positively Fourth Street.
Though many critics are quick to tag his dry, streetwise vocal delivery and chugging electric guitarwork as the hallmarks of a Lou Reed or Tom Verlaine acolyte, there's a definite rural whine that shines through in both his voice and his lyric sense that suggests an American Lloyd Cole or a less mannered Dan Bern.
When pressed, he calls himself an urban roots troubadour.
His second CD, Little Radio, was voted one of the Top 50 releases of 2003 by NYCs WFUV-FM, alongside offerings by Patty Griffin, John Mayer, Lucinda Williams and Gillian Welch and it was the only indie CD that made the list.
His material ranges from wryly humorous slices-of-life to dreamy meditations that come close to alt.country but never quite shoe the horse.
Clair has opened for an impressive list of already-theres, including Vic Chesnutt, James McMurtry, Richard Buckner, Livingston Taylor, Yo La Tengo and even The Flaming Lips. — Jim Reed, Connect Savannah
The term troubadour is bandied about quite a bit these days, used to define anyone from a heartland hero to those on an endless quest. However in the case of Stephen Clair, the description couldn’t be any more fitting. Devoted to the pursuit of music since early childhood, he later left his hometown in upstate New York to follow his muse to the typical roosting spots -- Austin, San Francisco, New Orleans,New York City and even as far afield as the south of France. He honed his craft along the way, absorbing the trademark sounds of each place he adopted, creating a fertile mix of punk, rock, jazz, blues and soul in the process. Eventually he returned home, where he founded a musical boot camp and not only helped to groom the musicians but also gave them practical experience by recruiting him for his new album, one which trumpets the band in both name and execution.
Although it boasts only eight tracks in all, Stephen Clair and the Pushbacks offers enough diversity to satisfy several sets of songs. Clair’s staggering vocals are frequently compared to Ray Davies, but mostly it’s the shifting rhythms -- the swampy sound of “My Crime” which leads things off at a plodding pace, the drive and determination of “I Found You,” the woozy swagger of the aptly titled “Typing Tipsy” -- that make the initial impression. Clair’s elf-effacing attitude also comes to the fore, and when he succumbs to resignation in the loping “Kill Me,” it provides a sardonic send-off that concludes the album on an even edgier note.
Ultimately what emerges is an artist with a singular style and the confidence to conceive it. Consider this a case of Pushbacks with pull forward.
With a Ray Davies-like vocal delivery, mountains of songwriting credits, Clair's gritty and provocative songs are kicked into high gear with the muscular and stirring chops of the mighty Pushbacks.
"A fearless performer" —San Antonio Express
“Clair is laid-back - yet very New York, proving that's possible.”—Village Voice
“Stephen Clair and the Pushbacks have literary, story-telling songs like Chuck Prophet, with a range of feeling from Steve Forbert to Alejandro Escovedo.”
—Nan Warshaw, Bloodshot Records
“For fans of literate singer/songwriters who balance the weight of the world with a bit of humor, Clair ... should fit the bill.”—All Music Guide