If you can call him anything, you can call songwriter and guitarist Stephen Clair the new American songwriter. With a career spanning 30 years, Clair has written hundreds of songs and released a dozen albums, and today he’s more prolific than ever. Never married to a single style, he’s acclaimed because he successfully writes so many kinds of songs in as many styles, all the while tackling any number of subjects. Performing Songwriter has called him “the kind of citified troubadour that the roots songwriting world needs these days.” Folk, Rock, American Songbook, Jazz, Gypsy-Bop, Blues, all of them are in Clair’s wheelhouse, and at his fingertips. It’s impossible to overlook his guitar style.
Clair is a prolific songwriter——all the more so during the pandemic. He and had band performed some outdoor real-life gigs last year, and through the winter Clair was invited to play live-streamed concerts presented by WDST, Rockwood Music Hall, Folk Alliance, and others. He went ahead and released a full length vinyl LP, The Small Hours, last fall, pandemic be damned, and sold out of albums before the end of the year, all via BandCamp. A respected songwriter, known for writing well in a range of styles, Stephen Clair’s already popular online songwriting classes only grew in popularity during the pandemic.
Clair came up opening shows for Vic Chesnutt AND Alejandro Escovedo; opening shows for Yo La Tengo AND providing tour support for Robert Earl Keen; with support from WFUV AND WNCW. Since the beginning, Clair’s gritty yet story-telling songs were informed by his penchant for the sound of lower east side in the 70s, and central Texas in …well, … the 70s… He’s always believed Lou Reed and Billy Joe Shaver had more in common than not.
Clair plans to release another new album later in 2021 with more news on that to follow, but in the meantime Glide is offering a premiere of the video for his new track “I Could Be Gone By Now.” Accompanied by visuals of Clair packing up and hitting the road – or at least attempting to – the song is an infectious roots rock anthem that is also the ironic road song where its protagonist never actually makes it to the toad. While it may or may not have been intentional, Clair seems to convey the frustration shared by many – especially musicians – of wanting to take off on a trip or a tour and being unable to do so because of being stuck at home due to the pandemic. The breezy rocker is somehow both melancholy and humorous, with Clair laying into a sharp guitar solo.
Clair describes the inspiration and process behind the song and video:
“I Could Be Gone By Now” captures a narrator in that awkward moment where the inevitable end to a romantic relationship is in full view. “It’s a road song,” says Clair, “where the character never actually hits the road.” The character hears the road beckon from every corner; he is not so secretly planning his escape, yet totally willing to hang around a little bit longer. We get the impression this guy doesn’t have anywhere better to go. The layers add up, and the most telling line comes at the end of the last verse, “we already gave this one more night.”
Jon Slackman, the filmmaker who shot and edited the music video, summed it up when he had wrapped up the edit. “There’s a funny sadness to the character in this song, and Stephen Clair brings it home in the video with his casual and easy portrayal of that somewhat uneasy character. This is one of those music videos that just happened beautifully, and it really expands on and adds to the narrative going on in the song.”
Photo credit: Jon Slackman