Recording information: Circle House Studios; Vanquish Studios.
Photographer: Nick Simonite.
Going by the dry and desolate appearance of The Lonely Roller, a listener previously unfamiliar with Steven A. Clark, a singer, songwriter, and producer, might expect a raw throwback hybrid of blues and soul. As indicated by underground releases, as well as a 2014 EP and a couple previews issued through Secretly Canadian, this album from the Miami-based native of Fayetteville, North Carolina is quite different from that. It's a relatively high-tech and elaborately layered production that fuses contemporary R&B and rock, played and programmed, while evading commercial trends. Clark's work beside a small team of instrumentalists and fellow producers is accessible and developed enough to appeal to a mass audience, though the condition of mainstream channels will likely prevent it from spreading beyond serious and seeking listeners. While Clark's sound and approach are clearly rooted in soul, they're devoid of nostalgia. He's equipped with a voice that can sound large with minimal exertion, and there's always weight to what he's singing, even when it scans like standard malignant breakup fare. When he dips into self-loathing and contentiousness, as he does in the trudging ballad "Trouble Baby," there's a sense of damage and desperation in his voice that lends itself to a little sympathy rather than reflexive rejection. Some of the songs, like the swirling/churning "Time Machine" and the distraught "Part Two," are grand enough to be used in eventful scenes of blockbuster films, yet they're never overblown. Most resonant of all is the opening title track, a crisp theme song for a lecherous loner bearing a heavy heart. ~ Andy Kellman