Wednesday, October 13, 2021

CD Odyssey Disc 1511: Kacy & Clayton

Over the weekend my friend Casey remarked, “don’t be petty, be Tom Petty.” Seemed like pretty good advice to me. However, if you can’t find it in yourself to be one of the greatest American songwriters in history, just make sure you manage the other half of the statement.

Disc 1511 is….  Strange Country

Artist: Kacy & Clayton

Year of Release: 2015

What’s up with the Cover? Kacy and Clayton stand on a large rock. The dirt is red, but does this country really qualify as “strange”? “Likely to stain your jeans” I’ll grant you, but I think “strange” is a stretch.

How I Came To Know It: I discovered Kacy and Clayton through their 2019 album, “Carrying On”. That caused me to dig into their back catalogue, and this is one of the records I decided…to not get. But then I found myself in the record store without my list and decided to give it a chance anyway.

Shopping for records is a lot like groceries – if you go without a list, you’re sure to pick up something you don’t need.  

How It Stacks Up: Not counting their recent collaboration with Marlon Williams (which I see as separate) I have two Kacy & Clayton albums: this one and the aforementioned “Carrying On.” I must assume “Carrying On” is better, as I didn’t like this one very much.

I have two other albums of theirs on my “to get” music grocery list, but they’ve been on there for a while, so I think I’ll give them another listen just to make sure.

Ratings: 2 stars

Kacy & Clayton are a Saskatchewan duo that have all the qualities of a band I should love. Simple folk music, singing tales of ordinary folk with a backdrop of minimalist production. Despite all this, it did not turn out well.

I think if I had somehow heard this record back in the early nineties I would’ve been more favourably disposed. Back then, I was heavily into ‘pure’ folk music. No contemporary sounds of any kind, thank you very much, and certainly no pop! I delved into the artists on traditionalist record label Green Linnett, sometimes picking them based on how many songs were in Gaelic (note – you couldn’t try records out on Youtube or Spotify back then – leading to all kinds of selection methods as arbitrary as that one, or worse).

Anyway, the singsong and high soprano vocals of Kacy Anderson is exactly the sort of thing you’d hear on Green Linnett. Anderson has a beautiful voice. It is light and pure like a Speyside whiskey.

The problem is that since then I’ve drifted to preferring a bit more peat in my Scotch, musically speaking. Here I found her vocals too pure, and while the songs tell many a traditional tale of tragedy and woe (as one expects from these kinds of tunes) I wanted a more grit in delivery. On my one other K&C album the production is a bit more complex, and it provides a counterbalance to Kacy’s singing. Here, she is on an island unto herself, and you either soar with her or she loses you in the high notes. More often it was the latter.

There are some standout moments on the record. The title track has a busker-style thump and strum to the guitar that fills it with energy, and the melody is well suited to the vocals. I felt like I was taking in an intimate show at some small outdoor concert venue.

Brunswick Stew” is gloriously dark, as it tells the story of a young woman who gets pregnant out of wedlock, and to hide her shame sneaks out one night to the river and drowns the child as it is born. It is the kind of dark stuff you expect from 400-year-old folk ballads despite being a K&C original. They do a great job of capturing the timeless quality of these old traditional numbers. The song is grim, yes, but it is high quality grim.

Other than these two bright spots, (and some bonus points for cheekily naming the last track “Dyin Bed Maker”) I rarely felt drawn in or emotionally connected to the music. I kept wanting more of the thump of the title track, or the creep factor of “Brunswick Stew” and not getting it.

Objectively, this record is good, and I know from my continuing quest for more Kacy & Clayton albums that I like what they are going for. However, the heart wants what it wants. And so I’ll pass this along to someone who will appreciate it more than I did.

Best tracks: Strange Country, Brunswick Stew

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Hey! True to his word, Logan passed the record to me! And I receive it with joy.

I agree with Logan that Strange Country and Brunswick Stew are the standout cuts from this album. The latter for its darkness indeed, but also for the beautiful, original imagery in the song.

I agree, kind of, on the opening track, too. It's the guitar that leads this dance. I was struck by how the playing - I don't know, is it an unusual chord progression? Anyway, it was out of the ordinary and attention grabbing, for me anyway.

I also dig their version of a traditional song variously known as Santy Anno, Santianno, and which this dup calls The Plains of Mexico. The story of this song, and its counterpoint General Taylor was interesting to me. But that was after being taken in by the song.

I guess digging out the old trad music is a "pure folk" move. But this record resonates for me because I hear a psychedelic folk sound to it that I can't quite explain. It reminds me of The Jefferson Airplane, even though its minimal, accoustic, instrumentation and Kacy's voice sounds nothing like Grace Slick. It's a mood, maybe.

I'm enjoying the sounds. Thanks for the record, Logan!