Stephen Clair

The Small Hours will be released by Rock City Records on September 18th.

Hot on the heels of last year's Malcolm Burn-produced Strange Perfume, Stephen Clair and his trio arrive just in time to reignite your summer on September 18 with the brand new 11-song THE SMALL HOURS.

Recorded at the beginning of 2020 in upstate NY, a minute before all hell broke loose, this is the Stephen Clair album we've been waiting for. It perfectly displays the power of his songs and his solid-yet-dangerous trio. It's spare, taut, fully-realized, and elevated by the muscle of his well-suited comrades, Daria Grace on bass, and Aaron Latos on drums. Clair wields a telecaster throughout. You know that glorious Fender sound when things are turned up loud but played (sometimes) delicately. It's nothing but a trio record.  But what chops. All so clean and so present. The band performs with the ferocity and immediacy of one of their late-night live shows, while maintaining a mighty but daring control over the songs. A band has to have played—and played—shows together to go at it with such knowing abandon. If ever there was a Stephen Clair record to be pressed to vinyl, this is it. 

Clair penned these 11 songs in the second half of 2019, and true-to-form, there is something for everyone here. Rock and roll songs, jazzy songs, songs about hurricanes, songs for radios and songs for streamers; chicken and pig songs, a touch of noir for people who are consumed, songs for those who consume, songs about Nobel scientists and cheap dates, songs of hope with rooftop escapes, songs where you will sing along, and songs where this rock and roll outfit goes out like a %$#^ing storm over the ocean.    

Up tempo post-punk pop rockers "Come Down" and "Is This Thing On" kick off the record, but by track three we are on our way to discovering this record is taking us on a serious trip. Go a little deeper, and you find a tale of chickens in love looking to bust out of their rut. In fact,  "Fixing to Fly ' is a prime example of the breadth of Clair's skills—and sensibility. This song about a chicken, along with "Dorot' are  downright jazzy with a taste for another era. The harmonic structure, the backing vocals, and the choice to use only acoustic instruments on 'Dorothy'—which is a Bossa Nova—suddenly puts Clair in the category of the busted up soulful jazz guy, somewhere between tom waits and Amy winehouse. 

The dynamics throughout this record are a hook in and of themselves.  The subtle beginnings of "Nobody Knows" are blasted to bits by the third line, when the song simply explodes with the outburst refrain "You've got dirt on me. I've got dirt on you."  That outburst is not even the chorus but it is an emotional release that proves to be a massive hook for everyone in the room. Go further, and moodier deep cuts slink up behind us. Songs like 'I'm In It', with its oscillating whir, extoll a surrender to inescapable obsession, strident and bare, if the Violent-Femmes were new on the scene in 2020. That song, along with others like 'Fate' bring this sense of The Small Hours home. There's a time of night when one's mind and one's surroundings are still enough that only then can certain thoughts be heard. Particular perceptions made. The stories these songs tell are the ones that reveal themselves after last call, or later still, when you're standing in your kitchen at 4am, trying to get your head around the fact that life is unwieldy in its enormity and insignificantly small, not sure if its the tail end of yesterday or the start of tomorrow.

Limited edition vinyl 12" LP, CD, and streaming round the globe — all on 9/18/2020.

 

the small hours — song by song

COME DOWN
Think post-punk, sweet but bristly rock pop, garage ...like the replacements, big star, rubinoos & chuck prophet.  The harmonies are sweet, the whole rock trio is out front in the mix. The lyric is written in a reveal form: with each consecutive line another word is added; and with each accruing line the meaning can change. And, just for kicks, it's a lean 3 minutes.

 

IS THIS THING ON

Some people ... I tell ya.  Give them a mouthpiece and they'll say anything. Now that we all live through a digital media, we forget to think before we speak.  Actually, some neglect to think.  Run into that same person on the street and they act like they don't remember, or maybe we're just taking it all a little too seriously. The band rears up and goes for the fences on this one. And Clair throws down an unmentioned-in-the-liner-notes Farfisa solo.

 

DOROTHY

Now for the acoustic-leaning Bossa Nova number on the record. The narrator questions himself along with his former lover. Was he not man enough?  Hard to say.  His questioning is overshadowed by words he might have heard, blame that may have been cast his way. From the moment Clair and band started playing this one in front of audiences, this became the song fans wanted to talk about.  "Is this on your new album?," they would ask.  Well, now it is.  "Going to a show alone / Have a drink with my phone."

    

FIXING TO FLY

A song about chicken love.  How they came together and plotted and carried out their rooftop escape, despite not being the greatest flyers. A crowd pleaser, with a bridge that takes you out and and an Andrews Sisters'-inspired coda. "No teeth / No lips  / But she's got them egg-laying hips"

 

NOBODY KNOWS

You know, there are the things we hide. The things we keep to ourselves.  And the things we share.  It's hard to keep track, right?  Like who did I tell what to? I've got dirt on you. You've got dirt on me.  Clair goes beyond the fences vocally on this one.  We're not sure if radio can handle it, but in our dream world this is the song that would be pouring out of cars onto the street all summer, and into fall. You can't not sing along.  And we mean, loud. Belt it out. Free therapy for everyone,  

 

MARIE

As in Marie Curie.  But sort of told from her husband's perspective. This album has it's noir moments, stepping into the quiet street in the middle of the night, everything black after a slow rain.  This song lives in that corner.  Did Marie get all the glory?  Was she distracted by her work?  Wouldn't you be?  If you were Marie Curie.  "When I tell her how I really feel she says its relative"

 

PIG IN A POKE

Falsetto vocals, danceable according to most. It's certainly rhythmic. "Some people say..." has a Talking Heads thing going on. A 'pig in a poke' is an idiomatic phrase from the 1500's, when a "poke" was a sack, and merchants would sell piglets in pokes, often sight unseen. Often the buyer would arrive home only to discover said piglet was substandard. So, the narrator in the song, or on the dance floor as it were, meets a love interest only to discover said love interest didn't quite live up to said narrator's expectations.  Crazy, right?  Foiled again

 

I'M IN IT

When love is an addiction, is dangerously all-consuming, when you cannot see beyond or think of anything other than how consumed you are.  There you wallow.  This is another super dynamic tune, that sneaks up and wallops you, in the key of minor noir. "I am waiting in a phone booth | It's no easy feat /  Just you try and find a phone booth / Somewhere on your street." 

 

HURRICANE COMING

"...left a scar across Florida yesterday.  We're going out /  On Rampart street / With our mandolins / Busking for the rats and fellow cranks."

To live through a New Orleans hurricane and tell the tale. The things some people reach for when nature bears down.  In the end, it's the heart that wins. We'll busk on the street—even if it's for the rats and our fellow cranks.  We'll go out for a quiet walk in a boarded-up French quarter, with our pet lizard on our shoulder. "May the river rise," we refrain, "I'm gonna love my pillow tonight"  

 

FATE 

Fate is the main character, a seductress personified. An illusion. This is the third and final installment of songs in the noir cycle that passes through this record. Fate is insincere, singing in our ear, elusive, showing up, and then passing, like the small hours. "The firecracker kids / Are blowing stuff to bits  / Nothing else to do"

 

CHEAP DATE

Ah, the best kind of date. No deposit. No return. Low up front investment. For a good time there's plenty we can do without having to rub our nickels together. For example, "There's an art opening tonight / They'll have some box wine / Cheese and crackers / And grapes and grapes and grapes and grapes!"