Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Patrick Stolley
It seems that each time Adam Stephens leaves us, he comes back to us with refurbished disappointment. Or maybe it's not disappointment, but something resembling it, something that we might actually turn to for an embrace in troubled times. The embrace, we've found, doesn't do us much good in shooing away the troubled times, but it helps for a second and that shoulder to press a cheek upon might be the closest thing we have to an escape, to a covering. It's this strange form of disappointment, a shared discourse of blues and sadness, that Stephens, the lead singer for Bay Area two-piece Two Gallants, always returns with - often with the corners chewed up a little more, some new holes in the bottoms of his sneakers and heavier eyes, not to mention the leaden heart that sounds like a man pounding in stakes with a sledgehammer for a new cattle fence out there in the field. Stephens can't help what he runs into that makes him so and turns the clouds on him, but he does all he can to make the most of it, spinning this opposite of merriment into the kinds of songs that make us all feel as if we're human beings dealing with a big, fat collective loss, one that is going to burn a little, for a long while. The first song on Stephens' solo debut - a record entitled "We Live On Cliffs," which is released under his full name (Adam Haworth Stephens) and has been in the works for well over a year - begins with a bountiful statement of where the young man is emotionally. He sings, "Did they tell you, that it ain't no use?/Soon enough we all just settle for the truth/And did they bring you, furnish you with lies/The dreams out of your mind, the sleep out of your eyes/I hold the candle while we dance upon the flame/And all your children will sing praises in your name," on "Praises In Your Name," and continues to readjust the refrain as we move through the verses, turning the exercise of dancing on a flame from a group activity to one of solitariness, as he finishes by saying, "I hold the candle and watch it burn so slow." He continues a few songs later by cutting us a line claiming that this living thing that we're all forced into doing "isn't for the faint of heart," and we can hear it in his voice that there's faintness to every single heart there is. It cannot be braved so easily - this getting through the thorns, this grinning and bearing it, so maybe there's no good in grinning, just in bearing. Stephens has always been able to deliver the ballads with the fiery expositions of torn to shreds people set on getting a little ferocious and snapping when they've been cornered and here, on "We Live On Cliffs," we find that there's more of a settling going on, of folks falling into those phases of life where they might comment that they're too old to give a damn anymore. As a younger being, they would have thrown their fits and tried to make things better, but the learning process has brought them to these wrinkles and these empty as ever pockets and this is likely where they're going to stay so it might be better to go easier on the temper and just find what passes as harmony.