Reviews

Adam Haworth Stephens: Human Nature

Author: Will Butler
11/09/2010 | NPR Music | www.npr.org/music/ | Album Review
Adam Haworth Stephens' music seems to bridge two worlds. He uses much of the charming, old and ornate poetry that's the signature of bands like The Decemberists, but he also brings life to the more prosaic travails of a modern-day urbanite. Unlike, as sometimes happens with singers who work with a sort of archaic artifice, Stephens' language rarely comes off as manufactured or fantastical. It's this grit and sincerity that fans have come to appreciate from the San Francisco songwriter, who has released two impressively spirited albums with Tyson Vogel under the name Two Gallants since 2004.

But Stephens is just hitting his stride. Without Vogel behind him on drums, but with a new host of collaborators, it appears that his songwriting skills are just as shrewd. Like fellow Saddle Creek troubadour Conor Oberst, Stephens has a way with words and a rugged, windswept delivery. "The Cities That You've Burned" is an incredibly satisfying folk ballad, delicately doused with pianos, percussion and plaintive strings, and reminiscent of Oberst's most recent work in all the right ways. Stephens ducks in and out of vivid images of human nature, providing brief glimpses into the lives of the despondent, the desperate and the detached.