Tuesday, November 4, 2008


JOSH CLAYTON-FELT – “Spirit Touches Ground” CD ’02 (DreamWorks, US) – I love thrift stores. Why? Well, to begin with, I like t-shirts. Anybody who knows me, knows that any time they see me I’m liable to be wearing a t-shirt they’ve never seen me in before. Some are band shirts but even more are sports stuff or things even further afield. You come face-to-face with me, chances are you’re going to be looking at something like “Wisconsin Football” or “CRAM: Wacky Packages” on my chest. It’s a Ray Thing, you wouldn’t understand. Deal is, I love thrift stores and on my t-shirt forays I also never hesitate to thumb through what’s usually a dusty bin of useless, half-destroyed CD’s while I’m there. The funnier thing is that I also generally come away with at least one decent disc. Such was a couple Saturdays ago, a brisk autumn day with the leaves swirling around Perry Hall MD, and my haul included a new “Saw” shirt and this little piece of plastic by JOSH CLAYTON-FELT. The cover of said disc looked cool, the back showed the dude playing guitar and it was a buck. Why not? Turns out it was a nice pick with a very interesting history. Seems JOSH was a founding member of alt-rock band SCHOOL OF FISH back in the late ‘80’s/early ‘90’s. They scored a couple college hits and then, after breaking up, CLAYTON-FELT got to work on a solo career. He released “Beautiful Nowhere” on his own in 1994, then got hooked up with A&M Records with whom he issued “Inarticulate Nature Boy” in ’96. Apparently that one got a good buzz going on college radio and landed him an opening spot on the Tori Amos tour of the time. Only problem? The damn album didn’t sell and A&M was sold to Universal, who decided to show their grace & sportsmanship by not allowing the guy to do anything with his own previously-released stuff. Some banging on doors did at least buy CLAYTON-FELT the rights to put out a live album himself. All the while he had started working on a new record and had just about finished it up in December 1999 when he had to take time to go into the hospital to have a growth checked out. On January 19, 2000 he died of testicular cancer at 32. How fucked up is that? But, in the wake of a tragedy, there can be a nice turn and that began when Universal Records found out that JOSH had died. At that point they decided to put the brakes on the strong-arm tactics and turn over the man’s material to his family. Long story short is that JOSH’s family then proceeded to mount a mammoth effort to get his new material out there. After putting up a website and spending countless hours, they finally got DreamWorks to release “Spirit Touches Ground.” So, after all this, it would certainly be a shame if this record weren’t any good, now wouldn’t it? Well, I can say without hesitation that “Spirit Touches Ground” is as nice a slice of alt-pop-rock as you might like to hear. Alternating back & forth between jaunty hook-laden pop gems like “Bull Ding Atlantis” and the more mellow stuff such as “Kid On The Train,” the record achieves a sweet dynamic that makes for an easy yet provocative listen. Then, it’s the cuts like the funked-up “Invisible Tree” and the sweeping title song that elevate it to something more special. Through the entire record, CLAYTON-FELT’s voice can be lilting but never lacking in command and his guitar work is sterling. Not one to solo much, it’s the fills and the way he embellishes the vocal lines with his sure-handed Fender tone that’s so impressive. Of course, the story of JOSH CLAYTON-FELT is a sad one: no one should shuffle off this mortal coil at such a young age. And yet, it’s a tale I feel glad to have stumbled upon in that thrift store. Maybe I paid a buck for this disc but it’s worth a helluva lot more in terms of inspiration and pure pop genius. 9.5
NOTE: Aside from the JOSH CLAYTON-FELT CD’s that were released before this one, there is another, “Center Of Six” that was released in 2003 and, from everything I read is just as good. Needless to say, I’ve got that one on the way!


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