Cliff Stevens – Better Days
12 songs – 47 minutes
Better Days is Montreal-based Cliff Stevens’ fifth solo release, in which he continues to mine that apparently inexhaustible blues-rock vein that has served the likes of Rory Gallagher, Johnny Winter and Eric Clapton so well.
Produced by Stevens and recorded and mixed by Simon Jodoin at Studio MegaRex in Montreal, Better Days features 12 self-written tracks, which range from driving blues-rock to acoustic country blues. The album opens with the loping title track in which Stevens looks forward with optimism to better days (the entire album was written and recorded during the Covid pandemic). He sings in husky tones that perfectly match his rocky but melodic guitar playing. Eric Sauvé’s excellent organ enhances the upbeat mood. “Passion” follows, with an acoustic slide guitar opening verse before the full band picks up the groove and drives it forward. Kim Feeney’s backing vocals complement Stevens’ lead vocals perfectly. Stevens’ electric slide solo is top notch.
Stevens’ band is impressive throughout, featuring (in addition to Sauvé and Feeney) Serge Dionne on bass, Sam Harrisson on drums and Pat Loiselle on harmonica. Stevens handles all the guitar duties.
The funky “No Room Left” highlights Sauvé’s superb piano playing, while the minor key “I Believe” slows the pace but contains another uplifting lyric and more excellent vocal interplay between Stevens and Feeney.
The dreamy “Heard You Knocking” features some of Stevens’ most effective guitar playing on the album and sounds like the sort of song that Jeff Healey would have loved to have got his teeth into. The upbeat shuffle of “Time For Me To Go” leads nicely into the soul ballad “Light Of An Angel” in which Stevens pays moving tribute to his late brother. “I Love You Still” is a more traditional slow blues with more fine guitar playing and a nod or two to the great Freddie King.
The driving “True Love” benefits from more exquisite piano playing from Sauvé, while “You Hurt Me” is a minor key blues that sits well next to the Clapton-esque slow blues of “I Been Thinking About You.”
The album ends with a lovely finger-picked acoustic instrumental “Slim Picking”, which features a variety of over-dubbed guitars.
Stevens’ singing voice is not quite as fluid as his guitar playing. Overall, however, this is a very impressive release from an obvious talent. The songs are very well written, acknowledging his influences but articulated very much in his own style. They are played with panache, emotion and impressive technical ability and the recording is also high quality.
Well worth checking out.