Review: Newcomer JD Clayton Proves He’s in it for the Long Haul on ‘Long Way From Home’

JD Clayton
Long Way from Home
4 out of 5 stars

Videos by American Songwriter

Push play on the opening track of JD Clayton’s debut full length and the initial sound heard are birds chirping, then a softly strummed acoustic guitar. “Hello Good Mornin’” is an appropriate introduction to the Arkansas-based singer/songwriter’s first album.

That simple yet honest expression continues through the next nine tracks, eight of which are originals. Like the music of The Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Creedence Clearwater Revival that inspired him, Clayton’s approach is rootsy and unaffected. He released a five-song EP in October 2022 and those tracks are repeated with five more (four originals and a humble but far from innovative cover of Creedence’s version of Leadbelly’s classic “Midnight Special”).

His six-piece band lays back, providing sturdy accompaniment to easy rolling, country-tinged tracks like “Simple Kind of Life.” That tune speaks of Clayton’s determination to not get sucked into the small-time life he was raised in (And make your own way to freedom/‘Cause no one’s gonna pull your boots up for ya), a defiant, somewhat rebellious theme running through the album. The concept of being lonely away from family as a struggling musician is not revolutionary. But when Clayton addresses it in the lovely title ballad with a mixture of longing yet determination singing, Mama I know I’m a long way from home/But this old dirt keeps on goin’/And these dreams of mine just don’t end, it’s clear he’s in it for the long haul.

A few upbeat moments like the honky tonk of “Goldmine” infuse twang into the proceedings. Yet Clayton excels when his everyman voice and organic, in-the-pocket backing unwind on songs like the Skynyrd-styled mid-tempo romp, “Heartaches After Heartbreak,” and the sweet “Beauty Queen.” The latter, even with the cringe-worthy lyrics You’re the only girl who set my heart free, is a sincere love letter to his wife that’s honest and genuine without a hint of the pretensions that often inflict other romantic songs. 

It’s a perfect example of how Clayton succeeds by not trying too hard. Perhaps self-releasing the project is key since it’s unlikely a major label would let him start a song like “American Millionaire” with just his foot stomping out the beat, caught by a microphone that seems to be on the other side of the room. He then lets the band loose, conjuring up a swampy groove with an edgy, southern-tinged slide solo you wish would go on longer.

That’s the appeal and charm of these subtle, melodic, self-effacing songs. It makes this such a successful starter for a fresh young voice in the crowded Americana minefield.

Hopefully, there’s more where this came from.

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