Madison, Wisconsin singer/songwriter Blair Clark is no stranger to the music scene. In the past he has played in the punk band Underculture and also the Americana-influenced project The Sills. But the six- song EP Ring A Bell is Clark’s first release under his own name. Clark does have a little help from his friends on Ring A Bell with local musicians Leah Brooke helping out on vocals, Todd Phipps behind the keyboards, Pete Olig playing bass and Ken Koeppler on the drums, with Clark himself playing guitar and singing.
Blair Clark describes his sound on Ring A Bell as “indie rock blue noir,” which given the slow and often lounge act drawl the music has seems a fitting description. To compare Blair Clark with a more well-known singers I’d liken him a bit to Chris Isaak and Jace Everett (for those of you who didn’t go through a vampire show phase Everett’s song “Bad Things” was used as the opening song for HBO’s True Blood).
The EP opens with the country-tinged and twang-y “Ring a Bell.” At times here Blair, who sings in a voice that often goes from a feigned falsetto to baritone, oftentimes it seems within the same note is paired with backing vocalist Leah Brooke. The pair sings in tandem, which after a time becomes rather distracting. The purpose of backing vocals is generally to accentuate the chorus or else come in on parts when the lead singer is not singing. That is not the case here though. Both Blair and Brooke each have their own unique voices, but they don’t mesh well together, rather they sometimes sound like they’re in competition. The same vocal infighting occurs on the sparse and bluesy rambler “Take Me Down,” which would have been better served with Brooke taking the vocal helm here.
On the short and sweet “Down on Me” Blair sings solo and his dark vocals along with the heavy peals of funky blues organ and one hears the difference completely. Then the pairing comes back on “Silent Love” and one notices even further just how intrusive the second set of vocals is, like a painting where too much is happening at once.
With Ring a Bell it seems as though Blair Clark is trying to find his niche as a solo artist. The bluesy noir territory he has found himself in just doesn’t seem to work all the time. He relies a lot on his backing band (keyboardist Todd Phipps primarily) to lay a seedy sounding backdrop for his songs, which are populated by hyperbolic scenarios of broken hearted down on their luck drunks. It’s an easy trap for the solo artist to fall into and it seems that Clark has taken the bait. Clark has some talent but falls into a category of wait and see,
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