JD Clayton makes his full album debut Friday January 27, with Long Way From Home. Clayton hails from Northwestern Arkansas, and now calls Nashville home where there seems there’s been a bit of hype surrounding Clayton lately, seemingly warranted. JD was a man about town, making several buzz-worthy appearances at Nashville’s AmericanaFest, which is always a good indicator of things to come.
Long Way From Home is Clayton’s second recorded effort, having released his debut EP, Smoke Out the Fire, in 2018. One of its tracks, “Brown Haired Blue Eyed Baby” was picking up lots of traction with over 2.2 million streams on Spotify alone. Then, the pandemic hit and everything changed for Clayton, just like it did for everyone else, and like everyone else, sometimes that meant drastic changes. He found himself working in a landscape crew just trying to make the ends meet, but he also welcomed his first child. These things have a way of changing perspectives if you allow them to, and it certainly seems Clayton saw the wisdom of making lemonade with life’s lemons while enjoying its blessings. He changed his approach to songwriting, recording and more, with Long Way From Home being the end result.
Growing up in Ft. Smith Arkansas, Clayton was exposed to music early and regularly in his family. The music bug latched on and continued developing through church and later high school and college, until during his sophomore year at the University of Arkansa-Fort Smith, Clayton formed his first band, Small Town Symphony. The band developed a following, but Clayton had a bigger picture in mind. He wanted to learn as much as possible about the recording process, seeing it as key to where he wanted to take his music. He started striking off to Nashville on the weekends n an attempt to immerse himself and learn all that he could. “I guess I realized during my sophomore year that nothing was going to happen until I started to record music correctly,” he says, and while nothing panned out immediately, Clayton definitely learned a lot. Finally during his senior year, he met producer Thomas Dulin via Instagram, and following graduation went on to record his debut EP with Dulin, relocating to Nashville shortly thereafter.
Which brings us back to the pandemic. Clayton was making those ends meet working landscaping jobs, all while still working out new material in his head. He says, “I would be in the back of the truck driving with the crew from job to job. I would throw in my headphones and try to write a song or I would listen to old albums from top to bottom. I constantly listened to The Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Creedence Clearwater Revival. I was so enamored by the production choices and musicality of those records. I really think I began to develop an ear for that sound.” He had an epiphany of sorts, “Arkansas, where I’m from, is the natural state. So I felt like I needed to get back to my roots and start making music that felt natural and organic,” he explains. “Production needed to be basic and simplistic with a focus on the story and the song. We would plug in a mic, set it in front of an amp, and let the player share their own story with their instrument. Now, that’s making music.” That’s exactly what Clayton did, and Long Way From Home is the result. Co-produced this time with Dulin at his studio, the album’s ten tracks reflect the simple “play it live” simple approach that marked Clayton’s favorite songs, giving the album as a whole a warmth that is generally just lacking from so many albums being released today.
There’s really a lot to like here. The album kicks off like a draw of the curtains on a new day with the acoustic-tinged optimism of “Hello Good Mornin’,” then there’s the front porch stomp of “American Millionaire,” the honky-tonk swing of “Goldmine,” the anthemic drive of “Heartaches Aftter Heartbreak.” There’s even a hint of early 60’s British psychedelia dripping all over “Cotton Candy Clouds,” which, while completely unexpected, I found fun nonetheless. “Different Kind of Simple Life” has a classic Bakersfield sound about it, and then there’s Clayton’s take on the early 20th century standard “Midnight Special,” which draws plenty of inspiration from Creedence Clearwater Revival’s version, but really stands out thanks to Clayton’s own homespun charm.
The album’s title track “Long Way From Home,” sits smack dab in the middle, and finds Clayton speaking directly with his mother about his struggles, insecurities, optimism and determination he has to make his music career work, declaring that “these dreams of mine just don’t end.” The album closes much like it began, this time though, it’s a drawing of those earlier curtains with the beautiful “Sleepy Night in Nashville.” Really a clever twist that may go overlooked by many.
It’s been a little bit since I was this enamored by a new artist. As I see it, Americana has had a leaning towards more polish and pomp in an attempt to manufacture celebrity presence. I’m not really a fan of what many consider the “popular” Americana artists and producers these days. Maybe that’s why Clayton’s songs stood out to me. There’s a refreshing simplicity and sincerity here that no amount of studio polish can create. JD Clayton hasn’t really done anything groundbreaking here, in fact he’s simply proven that good songs and an honest, organic approach should be the winning formula.
JD Clayton and his band will be taking to the road in support of Long Way From Home starting on January 20th with some dates in Texas, crisscrossing across the country a bit before finishing up the first leg in my neck of the woods, Oklahoma City towards the end of March. Do yourself a favor and give his songs a listen, then get out there, support him and make him feel welcome in your town. You can find out more information about Clayton, Long Way From Home and tour dates by visiting here: https://www.jdclaytonofficial.com/