WHERE THE RIVER MEETS THE SEA - Steve Clark (Endgame)
You shouldn't need me to tell you that Steve Clark was the bass player in Died Pretty from 1988 to 1991, appearing on the key albums "Every Brilliant Eye" and "Doughboy Hollow" (and if you do, then what's the matter with you - why haven't you been paying attention?). Sure, invoking the name(s) of an artist's previous associations is often misleading (e.g. someone who played kazoo for six months in a band that had a 10-year lifespan is unlikely to have had a major impact on their overall sound), but if I remind you that during his time in Died Pretty Clark co-wrote "Rue The Day", "Disappointed" and "D.C." it might help to put things in perspective.
On the other hand, while Clark obviously had an affinity with the music that Died Pretty made, that doesn't mean that his solo album is going to sound like a one man extension of Died Pretty, even if Brett Myers does play guitar on about half the tracks here (which would make it a two man extension of Died Pretty anyway). Let's be clear - if there's such a thing as an archetypal Died Pretty sound, then don't hold your breath waiting to hear it here (though "Crawlback" does come pretty close at the beginning and then again towards the end, even if in between it sounds more like the Chieftains).
However you will hear a lot of the same influences (okay yeah, and a few distinctly Prettyish riffs as well) echoing throughout these songs, which often have a dark folk-rock feel, sorta Rowland S. Howard meets Pentangle or Ralph McTell fronting the Bad Seeds. Throw in Nick Cave standing in for Robert Scott in the Bats and maybe you're starting to get an idea of what you might be in for.
With this album we have ample evidence that since leaving Died Pretty the quality of Clark's songwriting hasn't dropped off at all, but otherwise he's kept a fairly low profile. Apparently he's yet another Aussie artist who finds it easier to get gigs in Europe than around the corner from where he lives. I last saw him play at the Three Weeds in Rozelle on Sunday, the 12th of March 2000 - that's four years ago next month! At the time he thought this album would be out in another four or five months... I've been waiting patiently ever since.
It's always a pleasant surprise when what you've been waiting for lives up to expectations, but when you think about it, it shouldn't come as such a surprise at all. Independent artists, solo artists in particular, are largely immune to passing fashions, fads and the ignorant ministrations of big company A&R trolls. No one is looking over their shoulders and pushing them to change their style to fit in with this week's radio format or the current perceived hip style. In order to get a record finished, they have to have started with a clear sense of what their music is all about and then dig in and keep at it for however long it takes to get all the songs down on tape, mixed, mastered and then released; otherwise the record just never sees the light of day. So what you get ultimately on record tends to be close to the promise of what you got live originally (no matter how long ago that might have been).
When I saw him it was a solo acoustic show, with occasional contributions from Lara Goodridge on violin. On this album Clark not only plays acoustic guitar and bass (natch!), but also makes himself useful on keyboards. Electric guitar duties are split roughly 50-50 between Brett Myers and Richard Boxhall (and they both play on "Close"), while the non-electric tracks feature Lara Goodridge and Peter Hollo from Fourplay (and they can certainly rock when they want to, as they proved when they backed X at the Basement). The drums are credited to a Lloyd G (Ali's brother?) and there are some other musicians on scattered tracks and a selection of female back up singers, but the tiny print on the CD booklet strained my eyes, so I stopped reading.
One other person who I do know was involved with this record is Shane Fahey, former member of Makers of the Dead Travel Fast and later Scattered Order, but more recently Endgame label boss and owner of Megaphon Studios where much of this album was recorded. He's only credited directly on one track (Arp Synthesizer on "Higher Love" - definitely not to be confused with the old Stevie Winwood song), but he's also named in relation to engineering, mixing and producing so it's safe to say that he was in a position to have had a fairly pervasive influence (and he is one of those singled out for "special thanks" on the liner notes).
However Steve Clark is definitely the one with his hand on the tiller of this vessel as all but one of these songs are credited solely to him, the exception being "Cross This River", a duet co-sung by and co-credited to Chiara Browne (there's even a video for this - I know because I caught the end of it on Rage one night, which you'd think would teach me to check the listings more studiously in future, but...).
Standout tracks are the opening, morbidly melancholy "Blue", the aforementioned "Cross This River"; the soaring, shimmering "Close"; the slightly countryish "Hollywood", which recalls Paul Kelly, both in musical style and in the narrative nature of the lyrics (but beware, I'm a bloke who reckons that "Blue Sky Day" also has an appreciable country tinge, so take this with a grain of salt); and the closing, transcendent "Higher Love". Shit, that's more than half the album!
Now all I need is for him to start playing a few gigs around town (our town, that is). - John McPharlin
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