Stephen Clair

To The Trees to be released on May 20th

Stephen Clair has spent half his life having a conversation with his audience about what it is we’re all doing here. It’s his favorite conversation because it has no end.

The simplicity that imbues his songs can sometimes hide the keen wordsmithing and deceptively intricate fretwork that also elevates them.

“I like to zero in on the small stuff,” says Clair. “Our biggest moments in life, our hopes, triumphs and losses, can often be summed up by looking at the crumpled cover of a magazine on a coffee table, rather than the whole living room. I learned that as much from reading Raymond Carver as I did from listening to Bobby Charles.”

“I’ve had plenty of fans thank me for wearing my heart on my sleeve.” To The Trees is an album in the classic sense, where all the songs are a part of a piece; and its uniqueness lies in its remarkable emotional open-heartedness. “My first influences came from country music records my grandfather would play. There’s a directness in those early recordings that’s shared by the singers, the songs, and the arrangements.” 

To The Trees is Clair’s ninth album. And while it’s no country collection, his voice has never sounded better. As a writer, he is in top form. The songs are simple and elegant, allowing room for the emotions to resonate. In it, Clair shares the personal journey he’s on: a Hudson Valley parent, a lifelong songwriter, another guy simply walking his piece of the planet. It’s undeniably engaging; and always with that touch of Clair wit.     

Clair is prolific, writing songs daily. There have, admittedly, been a few albums in a row in recent years, including, mid-pandemic, The Small Hours; and, prior, the Malcolm Burn-produced Strange Perfume.

The latter prompted Power of Pop to declare the disc, "Some of the best rock 'n' roll music you'll hear this year–raw and in-your-face, Strange Perfume reminds us all of the visceral power of rock ‘n’ roll, without pretense or artifice." 

“Blending the kind of jaggedly cool guitar and piano that put Spoon on the map with a deadpan, almost spoken-word vocal delivery,” Glide declared, “it quickly evolves into a righteous bar band anthem that feels as much linked to acts like the Hold Steady as it does to Wilco.”

Strange Perfume is darkly joyous, raving, sneering, lusty and thrilling"—The Big Takeover.

Clair’s wry humor and keen eye have been likened to that of Ray Davies and Jonathan Richman. He relishes life on Earth, particularly his well-travelled little slice of it. It’s messy, difficult, a little funky and always changing. Like John Prine or Tom Waits, Clair sings of three-legged dogs leading parades and of leaving his boots in the street in hope that someone with the right size feet might come along. Stephen Clair is a singular songwriter and performer, a man with a voice all his own.

Then there’s the unmistakable sound of Stephen Clair with a guitar. (When is he without one?) He lures so many sounds from six strings. In his hands, that little black and white Martin sings. And what magic does he do to coax those sounds out of a Telecaster? It’s a major topic of conversation—a buzz, a hubbub, a roar—after each of his shows.

To The Trees was a collaborative affair, recorded with The Restless Age (drummer Lee Falco, keyboardist Will Bryant and bassist Brandon Morrison). Talented beyond their years, and capable of sporting sibling-like vocal harmonies, The Restless Age has toured backing Donald Fagen and their resume includes working with Kate Pierson (B-52’s), Rachel Yamagata and The Lemonheads.

Clair knew just what he was getting into. The music on this record soars.

The album’s centerpiece and title track, “To The Trees,” tells the story of a teenage sibling who gets up from the family dinner table one day, walks outside, and, without looking back, goes to live out their days amidst the highest branches.

The Beatlesque production launches from the speakers, while Clair’s laser eye and rapier wit is more Kinks-like.

A 21st century allegory, it blooms into a metaphor for the quintessential rite of passage, a child making life their own, leaving parents to adapt as best they can.    

In “Lousy Butterfly,” Clair wonders, would everything really be different if that one insect hadn’t flapped that one wing? At any given moment, who’s to say which way anything will go? Can there be such a thing as destiny, when it’s all so arbitrary?

The subdued “About My Body” breaks away from the rest of the album, with only Clair and an acoustic and a bit of rain on the roof. It provides a glimpse into another’s heart, as they question who they truly are—and it will break your heart if you let it.

Chunky triplets and horns drive the single (with accompanying video) “Let it Out.” Do you ever feel like you need to cry, scream, laugh, punch a pillow or dance it out? Here is your anthem! "Let it out/It's about time."  

Clair just can’t help himself. Always honest and plenty cheeky, he will keep penning hook-laden, compelling songs where somebody’s bound to be high as a kite or down on their damn luck. Or, more likely, some of both. 

“I hope this record helps people feel all the feels,” he says. “I hope they scratch their heads, laugh a bit, sing along and maybe even dance.”

“All any of us ever wants is to know we’re in this together.” 

Come on up To the Trees. It’s a pretty good life, and an even better view.