Adam Haworth Stephens Adam Haworth StephensWe Live On Cliffs
When half of a band decides to go solo, it usually has to do with one of two things: 1) that the half of the band has other interests (another sound in mind, perhaps) or, 2) that half of the band wants to go even further with what the band usually does. Well, in the case of Adam Haworth Stephens, half of Two Gallants, it’s clear that his intention was the second, judging from the bucolic and intensely sensitive “We Live on Cliffs”, his first solo LP. Distancing himself just a little from that lo-fi, folky alt country that Two Gallants has been making so well since the start (back in around 2002), Stephens has taken a step forward, taken off his hat, put on his torn jeans, and written nine songs that seem, more than anything else, to be love letters to the girls he lost, the opportunities he wasted, and the boots he left in the ditch along the way. Yes, old Adam is hurting, and he sounds like the urban version of Mark Olson.
No, there's no hit on the album that is as good as “Despite What You’ve Been Told”, the peak moment of the band’s last album, the wonderful, self-titled “Two Gallants” (Saddle Creek, 2007). No? No. Yes, “The Cities That You’ve Burned” might be powerful, but the only thing it does is crown the epicentre of an album that takes sentimental introspection to its final consequences, to a vaudeville rhythm (think of a birthday party for a sad cowboy, held in a saloon without much of a crowd). “With Vengeance Come” is the sweetened, epic version of a Ryan Adams who has forgotten he's really quite a tough guy. Yes, there are songs that are electric, but contained (such as “Elderwoods”, ready for take-off), and even efforts to sound obviously classic (the start, “Praises in Your Name” is pure old country, and his voice sounds a little more high-pitched). But mostly there are acoustic half-times, ballads for coming home after a date ( “Heights of Diamond”), and lights that blink in the darkness (the very Wilco “Southern Lights”).
So, is Adam convincing? Let’s say that he tries, and that the effort outlines the figure of a guy determined to join the ranks of the more or less prolific songwriters (see Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, J. Tillman, and the others), but not much more. Because on “We Live on Cliffs” there are truly brutal moments like “Everyday I Fall” or the lesser “Second Mind,” but there are also false moves, or cuts that sound strangely tropical, like “Angelina”. It borders on notable, but it really just comes close. If they don’t come back, we’ll miss Two Gallants.
Adam Haworth Stephens - The Cities That You've Burned Adam Haworth Stephens - Your Witness