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The first single from Adam Haworth Stephens‘ forthcoming solo debut is filled with an irresistible charm, its gentle curves calling to mind the contrapuntal piano bounce of The Beatles’ White Album. Stephens, who is better known as the songwriter behind San Francisco duo Two Gallants, has a voice whose timbre strikes the ears as a more muscular cousin of Bob Dylan’s–less prone to the nasal registers and with more crisp edges.
While it may seem poor form (or at least a bit lazy) to invoke The Beatles and Dylan in the first two sentences of a review, one listen to “The Cities That You’ve Burned” will prove that the comparisons make sense. While not on quite the same echelon as those musical titans, Stephens is a gifted songwriter whose many talents are on display here, both lyrically and instrumentally.
His words have the weight of a poet’s, as when he sings of “the money spent to dam the rivers of your discontent.” Where lyricism tends to be an afterthought for most contemporary artists, Stephens’ vocals offer a consistent stream of surprising, striking turns of phrase which conjure up vivid mental imagery.
This verbal facility is perfectly coupled with his penchant for constructing songs with naturally engaging progressions. Stephens throws a string section, handclaps, organ, and the aforementioned jovially striding piano chords into the mix, but does so with smarts and restraint, never oversaturating the tune. Occasionally, he pulls back on the reins to reinforce moments of quiet drama.
You’ll be able to hear more from Stephens when his solo premiere is released September 28th courtesy of Saddle Creek.