Sat, May 20|
Stephen Clair and Michael Eck
Time & Location
May 20, 2023, 8:00 PM
Cambridge Depot, 6 Broad St, Cambridge, NY 12816, USA
About the event
Two extraordinary artists team up for one night at the Depot.
Stephen Clair tells “a true story” with his new album, To the Trees
Once the essence of the itinerant troubadour, writing and performing his songs from Seattle to the south of France, Stephen Clair has been everywhere, man. Clair first came to prominence when WFUV pronounced its love for “Jen In Her Underwear,” putting Clair not only on the map, but the road. Fast forward a thousand shows and half a dozen albums, Stephen Clair is ready with his 9th full-length record, To The Trees.
Clair is prolific, writing songs daily. There have been a few albums in a row in recent years, including, mid-pandemic, The Small Hours; and, prior, in 2019, the Malcolm Burn-produced Strange Perfume.
The latter prompted Glide to declare: “Blending the kind of jaggedly cool guitar and piano that put Spoon on the map with a deadpan, almost spoken-word vocal delivery,”, “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.”
Clair’s wry humor and sharp eye have been likened to folks like The Felice Brothers, John Prine, and Ray Davies. He relishes life on earth, particularly his well-travelled little slice of it. It’s messy, difficult, a little funky and always changing. Clair sings of three-legged dogs leading parades and of leaving his boots in the street in hopes that someone with the right size feet might come along. 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.
On To The Trees, Clair’s trusty library again inspires, with the title track paying deference to Italo Calvino’s “The Baron in the Trees”—this song’s subject walking out on a family meal to live out her days amidst the limbs.
This is Clair’s grand statement, as individual and open as a record can be—embracing change, accepting the new and sending fresh shoots out on its own.
Maybe it’s time for all of us to head To the Trees.
"Stephen Clair is in a fine position to secure that big breakout he’s been building towards over the course of eight albums and a career that’s found him in the role of a tireless troubadour.” — American Songwriter
The skinny on "The Largest Working Man In Show Business" ........... Saratoga blues man Phil Drum often refers to Michael Eck as a “songster,” a descendant of those street singers who had little regard for definitions of style, preferring instead to play all types of songs as long as they moved either the heart or the feet. Eck has certainly spent some time listening to the likes of Lead Belly, Skip James and Woody Guthrie but he’s also dropped the needle on Joe Henry, Dave Alvin and Gillian Welch.
If he is a songster, it’s of a very contemporary stripe.
As a songwriter, Eck does his best to fuse the drive and passion of those early greats with a modern lyrical sense all his own. He calls his thing "maximum solo acoustic" and it's maximum in every way, from his hulking frame and primal-folk bashing to his quiet country-tinged ballads. It's roots-rock that traces the bloodline from Blind Lemon Jefferson to Hank Williams, and from Tim Hardin to Tom Waits.
In 1995, after years spent in too many hardcore, cowpunk and R&B bands to mention, Eck pulled out his battered old Martin D-18 and recorded his long-awaited debut album, "Cowboy Black" -- a direct to two-track collection of road-weary songs written in Texas and Louisiana. The album garnered plenty of critical acclaim and established Eck as a literate new force on the songwriting scene -- one influenced as much by Sam Shepard and Raymond Carver as by Johnny Cash and Townes Van Zandt.
"Resonator" followed in 1998, with a passel of guests (including vocalists Rosanne Raneri, Kris McKay and Lonesome Val) decorating Eck's distinctive tunes with an Americana palette of banjos, fiddles, dobros and more. In a full-page feature No Depression magazine compared "Resonator" to the work of Joe Ely, Steve Earle, Bob Dylan and the brilliant but obscure Ted Hawkins.
A third release, 2000’s "Small Town Blues," reflected Eck’s deep immersion in American folk music of the 30's and 40's, and three of the album's tunes were, in fact, recorded with the same steel-body 1931 National Triolian guitar that graces the album's cover. The National wasn’t the only new addition -- mouthbows, washboards and harmonicas also replaced the cellos, violas and accordions of "Resonator's" more baroque moments.
Now, a decade later -- most of it spent painting those same blues heroes; producing albums for others; and picking mandolin with Ramblin Jug Stompers and Lost Radio Rounders -- Eck returns to what guitarist Bill Nelson once termed “the calm persistence of plastic” with a live album recorded at Exit 97.7/WEXT
“In My Shoes” is actually Eck’s first entirely solo album, as “Cowboy Black” spotlighted dobro man Kevin Maul on a number of tracks; and it features the best of a big batch of songs that have been brewing for a decade -- ever since his last release and the subsequent dissolution of the Boston indie label behind both “Resonator” and “Small Town Blues.”
“Shoes,” Eck says, “is sort of a new chapter and an old chapter for me, at the same time.”
“I’m feeling incredibly good about being back in bands as a sideman, which is where I started. But I’m also excited about getting back on the horse by myself, which is where I ended up. It’s all music, and I’m good with that.”
For those keeping score at home, Michael Eck has recorded and performed with Patti Smith, Pete Seeger, Aimee Mann, Jason Ringenberg, Jon Brion, 10,000 Maniacs and Hamell on Trial, (who dedicated his 1992 indie release "A Letter To Mike" to Eck). He has opened shows for Ani DiFranco, Jeff Buckley, Ben Folds Five, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Alejandro Escovedo, Dave Van Ronk, Jonatha Brooke, Richard Buckner, Leon Russell and so many others. He was host of the long-running Borders SongWriters Forum and has produced albums for Coal Palace Kings, Jim Gaudet, Blue Wilder, The Plague and others. His songs have been featured on albums by Rosanne Raneri, Jim Gaudet, Frank Jaklitsch and Kevin Maul. He is a member of Ramblin Jug Stompers) and Lost Radio Rounders and he endorses instruments made by The Loar .