CD Review: Lake In The Night – The Claytones

The difference between music fans and music addicts, aside from the size of their respective music collections, is this:  addicts have music for specific places/moods/times of day/etc.  Challenge yourself quickly:  name five songs you’d put on a mix for someone taking a roadtrip to cure a broken heart.  Name five more suited to a playlist about nature and spirituality (must be danceable).  Name another five that capture the plot of your favourite book (no cheating if it was adapted to a film).

Music fans will come up with these in time.  Music addicts will look at you and think, “Only five?”  Some might already have a playlist at the ready.

I bring up this distinction because more than ever, my music-addicted self finds herself driven by cravings for music to fit specific needs.  While I generally enjoy alt/folk/acoustic/electronic rock, I’m no stranger to pop music, soft folk, chillout, metal, broadway musicals and “new classical”.  Of late, my tastes are broadening, and I’m enjoying the exploration.

One of the latest finds during this exploratory phase is the “Canadiana” country melodies of Ottawa’s The Claytones.  Ask anyone who’s known me for years:  aside from a love of Garth Brooks and Johnny Cash, country generally strikes out with me, new and old alike.  Yet here I am, happily humming along to their debut full-length release as a unit, Lake In The Night.  Packing years of experience among the trio of member, The Claytones deliver a polished, spirited album, perfect for a brisk Autumn night, a long drive or a quiet night with liquor and good conversation.

One of the things that strikes a listener immediately about Lake In The Night is the decision to lead with a slower number.  Honeyed harmonies accent lead track “Brother Hold On”, a classic roots/country tune that evokes a lonely man in a bar, whiskey in hand.  It provides a sharp relief against track two, the stellar rocker “Out On The Road Tonight”.  It’s almost as if to stress that while the band explores sorrow and heartbreak, their ultimate message is positivity.  “Out On The Road Tonight” holds strong potential for crossover appeal in rock markets (think Sheryl Crow or Lady Antebellum); no wonder, then, that it’s my favourite on the album.  It also helps that it’s an anthem for the freedom of the open road and its restorative powers.

For those that love their country straight-up, “If I Could Only Win Your Love” is a sassy composition that begs for a dance, cowboy hat in tow.  “Call Your Lover’s Name” is another track that fits nicely alongside the so-called new country of the day, with punchy melody lines and memorable lyrics.

The Claytones have perfected the art of storytelling through song, with several tracks evoking clear narratives or vivid imagery.  “Remembrance Day” is but one example of this, taking a song in tribute to Canada’s annual day of remembering our veterans and weaving a trilogy of perspectives of those affected by war and coming home.  Honest and moving without feeling political or preachy, it’s a fitting tribute to those who have served their country.  In a more intimate tale, “When The Sun Goes Down” conjures up a relationship strained to its limits by lack of connection, a lament in the vein of Sarah Harmer hit “Basement Apartment”.

What pushes this band in front of others in a crowded field is their polish and harmonies.  Nowhere on the record did I cringe at lyrics or note common mistakes (abuse of rhyming couplets; formulaic or cliched expressions; identical song structure throughout).  The band’s members posses a collective eight albums of previous studio material under their proverbial belts and the wealth of that experience is evident.  Vocal harmonies are employed in just the right measure, with a beautiful mesh of each voice.  I also enjoy the exploration within their genre on these tracks:  some feel very country/roots; some evoke a classic rock feel; and some veer towards country-pop.  It makes for a dynamic listening experience from start to finish, and really, that’s all a music fan wants:  an album that engages the mind and heart.

Lake In The Night is a treat for anyone who enjoys solid songwriting and music that tells a story.  The Claytones are definitely a band to watch.

Highlights:  Out On The Road Tonight; Day By Day; When The Sun Goes Down; Remembrance Day; Roll Um Easy

Final Grade: A-

You can learn more about The Claytones and snag your own copy of Lake In The Night at their official site.

The Claytones have embarked once again on the CP Holiday Train Tour.  The Canadian Pacific Holiday Train hits  over 150 communities in eight states and six provinces. In the last decade, the Holiday Train has help raise $4 million and 2 million pounds of food for local food banks.  For details on the tour (and how to catch The Claytones for a donation to the food bank), click here.

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