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On the Stairs makes a fascinating, unique folk/gospel/country album

Last updated on September 12, 2017

Leonard Mynx‘s Vesper is easily one of the most depressing works I have ever had the pleasure of reviewing. I love sad folk music, and in sheer volume of misery, I think only Elliot Smith can trump Mynx. When I get a package endorsed by Leonard Mynx, I jump on that stuff.

So, when I got Beyond a Shadow of a Doubt by On the Stairs, which Mynx not only recommended but played on, I was thoroughly interested. On the Stairs does not disappoint my interest, but it does take it in a different direction. Mynx has three songwriting moods: sad, sadder and “I’m rummaging around for the antidepressants.” Nate Clark, the main man behind On the Stairs, employs a much wider range of moods, although the two artists’ instrumentation is very similar.

The spare notes, distant strumming and sonorous tone of the acoustic guitars transfers over to both artists, but Clark uses it to balance his low voice. And by low, I mean his baritone dips into Johnny Cash range often. Opening track “Already Won” employs his voice to excellent ends, displaying his range and creating a memorable melody out of it. It fluctuates between tempered glee and pondering, which is an awkward sort of description, but the best I can do. Nate Clark creates intensely specific moods with his gospel-tinged folk, and that’s one of his strengths.

The ominous violins and distant drumming of “King” give the song all the drama and tension, as the lyrics don’t really tell the story. The ebb and flow of instruments does, though; if that’s not the mark of a powerful songwriter, I’m not sure what is. But on the other end of the spectrum, there are upbeat moments of similar power, as in the Southern Gospel-tinged “Heaven” and “No Trumpets.” I never thought I’d see the day where I praised anything even related to Southern Gospel music, but Nate Clark has pulled it out of me. Both songs are darn good and totally in line with the usually uncomfortable and overly-sincere genre of white gospel music. “Sing It Off Stage” starts off with found sound of a crowd milling and turns into an indie-pop gem of sorts. There are hardly any cliche or predictable moments on this album; Nate Clark’s vision is far past where I expect songs to go. That’s a good, good thing.

Nate Clark’s songwriting vision is similar to Leonard Mynx’s, but in a different direction. Both use spare instrumentation and lots of space in their primarily acoustic compositions to achieve a desired effect. Mynx’s is always depressing, while Clark opens up his emotional palatte to some genuinely happy moments amidst the pondering and meandering. The honest exploration of many of life’s facets makes On the Stairs’ Beyond a Shadow of a Doubt a highly enjoyable, incredibly interesting and very unique folk/gospel/country album.  For fans of classic country, modern folk, Johnny Cash, low voices and unique (but not difficult) songwriting.