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.independent