“I want this guy to go out into the world and become the next Otis Redding …I mean, if there was a job opening for the next Otis currently available,” I leaned over and whispered into my friend Ian’s ear while Mike Clark absolutely owned the stage at Shove Chapel during the recording of this session.
Yes, I’m aware that that’s a loaded statement: the broken-down soul of Otis Redding is ingrained my Georgia roots, since my Grampy went to the same Baptist church as Otis did and I like to think it’s in my veins somehow. I’ve known Mike Clark for a few years, as he’s a major player in the Colorado Springs independent music scene (The Haunted Windchimes, The Jack Trades, that “Hey Daisy” handless bike video made up the street from me), but watching his transformation on that chapel stage into an anachronistic band-leading soul singer was notable. My first thoughts were, “Where the hell did this come from? From a 34 year-old land surveyor from Calhan, Colorado?!”
Mike didn’t start playing music until he was 27, and it appears to have been a fairly intense salvific experience for him, that transformation. It reminds me some of Ray LaMontagne’s story, except instead of hearing a Stephen Stills song on the radio and deciding to follow music with everything in ya, for Mike it was a harmonica he bought on a roadtrip and then played for the rest of the 25-hour journey home. You can see that spirit in these performances.
This is a session to tenderize, to dissolve defenses. The chapel session feels a little more gaunt and starkly soulful than his new record. As my friend Adam said, “There’s a darkness here like so much of that older stuff had in it, below the R&B feel. It’s the ‘blues’ part of R&B that people forget about.” Mike’s startling voice pierced that whole church. You felt the weariness, but there’s a wide-open, unadorned quality to the candor here also. These are A.M. radio songs that wake you in the middle of the night or keep running through your head as you whistle the melody.
The songs on Round and Round, his debut record with The Sugar Sounds, make you sway and tap like old rock & roll 45s. This chapel session feels more focused on Mike’s tremendous emergent voice — it’s one you have to stop what you are doing to give it the attention it deserves. And Mike is backed here by an ace band of some of the best other musicians in town: Inaiah Lujan (Mike’s bandmate in The Haunted Windchimes), Alex Koshak (The Flumps), Grant Sabin, Ian Bourgal (The Changing Colors), and Marc Benning (34 Satellite). It is so damn fun to watch them play together.
Put this session on and lay flat somewhere and just listen. Every song they performed for this session feels to me like an immediate classic, something you’ve known for a long time. Out of five songs here, only one is on Mike’s current record. He’s writing songs without stopping, and I am so glad that we get to journey with him.
FUEL/FRIENDS CHAPEL SESSION #23:
MIKE CLARK & THE SUGAR SOUNDS
January 25, 2013 / Shove Chapel
Losing My Cool
Just….go on get out of town. Again: A 34-YEAR-OLD LAND SURVEYOR FROM CALHAN, COLORADO. Something tells me in my belly that with this kind of fire in him, and this band behind him, he won’t stay our local secret for long. Holy cow — some of the most fun I’ve had in church, this one.
Take A Chance
The best descriptor I can come up with for this song is that it is hopefully devastating, wearily wooing. It’s a gun-shy swoon — and I get that. There may be nothing scarier than asking someone to take a chance on you. I like the purpose with which Mike does it here.
That’s How Strong My Love Is (Otis Redding)
Yeah, of course this happened. It’s so humble the way he tackles this one, with all of O.V. Wright‘s wonderfully romantic original lyrics like “I’ll be the rainbow when the storm is gone, wrap you in my colors and keep you warm…” It’s perfect. You should definitely watch it here.
What Lovers Do
At the end of the session, five of us stood around the piano as almost an afterthought, and sang along sweet little harmonies and “ooooh”s to this new creation of Mike’s. I don’t know if I’ll ever post a chapel session song that boasts more simple joy than this one. Watch it here.