A strong collection with songs that will appeal to a wide audience.
JD Clayton hails from Fort Smith in Arkansas a town of around 80,000 or so and the third largest in the state. JD’s father was a real estate agent who changed course when Clayton Jr was a teenager to found his own church. Clayton’s early singing career was based around the church before he got a taste for the limelight performing in front of the students at his high school.
Now based in Nashville and having spent the pandemic working construction to make ends meet, he met up with producer Thomas Dulin with whom he’d worked previously (2018’s ‘Smoke Out The Fire’ EP) and recorded ‘Long Way From Home’ at Dulin’s Planetarium Studio.
The album opens with bird song running into the short (1:25), delicate ‘Hello, Good Morning’ performed with acoustic guitar and a soft Southern-accented vocal. The second tune, ‘American Millionaire’, sees Clayton set out his stall with a rocking tune and rough-edged vocal. It’s about making it in Nashville as a successful songwriter and performer. ‘Beauty Queen’ is one of a pair of love songs from different perspectives; in this one the road warrior finding the woman who makes him want to settle down and with more of a high lonesome vocal. The second, ‘Goldmine’, sees Clayton unable to find love but being identified and brought in by the One.
The title track ‘Long Way From Home’ inverts the bravado of ‘American Millionaire’ and portrays Clayton in a more vulnerable light, struggling to make it and begging his mother “Will you buy me a plane ticket out there?” He betrays insecurity both physically “If I lost more weight they might like what they see” and in the eyes of Clayton Sr “Maybe dad was right when he said, It ain’t what it’s cracked up to be”. He performs a similar about turn on love with ‘Heartaches After Heartbreak’ which opens slightly disturbingly, “Woman, you left bloodstains on my old t-shirt that never seem to wash away”. He doesn’t develop that theme but speaks more to abandonment followed by alcohol backed by a tune reflecting Clayton’s love of Lynyrd Skynyrd.
After ‘Cotton Candy Clouds’ 50s-inflected pop, Clayton revisits the classic rock well with a Creedence-inspired ‘Midnight Special’. ‘Different Kind Of Simple Life’ takes us back to Fort Smith with one Clayton staying put and telling the other to follow his dream while reassuring him he isn’t burning his bridges by doing so. It’s another slower number with the vocal in the higher register and a soothing pedal steel weaving in and out of the melody. Closer ‘Sleepy Night in Nashville’ closes the day that began with ‘Hello Good Morning’ with an acoustic backing in which the banjo is prominent.
The variety of styles and themes in ‘Long Way From Home’ leaves an impression of a songwriter’s portfolio rather than a performer’s album and that results in a whole less than the sum of the parts. The qualities shown on some of the songs suggests there is a strong record when Clayton finds his performing persona. Overall, it’s an evocative collection with songs that will appeal to a wide audience.