Adam Haworth Stephens – We Live on Cliffs

Rating: ★★★½ ·

Two Gallants is a rocking good time, so what would we see when Adam Haworth Stephens decided to go it alone for his first solo release, We Live on Cliffs.  It’s precisely what you don’t expect, as aside from his distinctive vocals, you find a young man fleshing out his sound, exploring territory that’s familiar to him, though not necessarily associated with his work.

When we first jump into his solo debut, you can immediately see that Stephens wasn’t too sure about how far he wished to take this venture, as opening “Praises In Your Name” definitely has some alignment with the tunes of his main gig.  It has that little bit of twangy swing to it, and you might find it hard to see his disassociate his recognizable vocals from his prior outings.

However, when you encounter the softly picked “Vengeance Come,” you begin to see that he does have the capability of establishing his own sound.  A female vocal accompaniment allows the song to take on a much for folk-rooted sound, coming off in the same genre as other bands like The Cave Singers.  The song has a subtle quality, giving the listener plenty of time to just sit back and absorb the melodies, and the ornate instrumentation.  Similarly, “Heights of Diamond” goes the route of a slow-walking number.  It’s at this point where Adam Haworth Stephens really begins to distance his vocal, using less of that throaty raspiness, giving off a more calming presence.  Using this approach definitely provides a mellower quality to the songs themselves, as Stephens doesn’t sound as urgently rushed as he has at times.

We Live on Cliffs definitely uses musical patterns that continue to build upon each other. “The Cities That You’ve Burned” slowly creeps along, but eventually bouncing drum beats and barroom piano sort of give the track a bit of extra momentum.  You can’t help but get carried away as Stephens’ vocals soar in and out with the rhythm of the song itself.  “Southern Lights” uses that same piano sound, with a little bit of a southern drawl to eek out the emotion, and the chorus will certainly grab you, if you haven’t been hooked by this slow jangle already.

By the time you’ve wrapped up the entire listen, you’ll probably note that there’s nothing wrong with any of the sounds or construction elements.  Given, at times there’s not a lot of differentiation from track to track, but its clear that Adam intended to take on an entirely different approach here, giving himself a warmer, fire-side folk appeal.  While you can knock that like-minded song pattern, you have to admit that as you pour through We Live on Cliffs, every song seems to have its own strength, its own ability to stand on its own merits.  Isn’t that really all you want from a good songwriter?  If we didn’t know Adam Haworth Stephens could write great songs, this album is yet another reminder for us all.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/02-Second-Mind-1.mp3]

Download: Adam Haworth Stephens – Second Mind  [MP3]

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