I don’t know much about The Claytones, but I do know what I like. I was first drawn to the band with the realization that one of their two lead singers, Kelly Prescott, is the daughter of one of Canada’s greatest voices – the criminally unsung Tracey Prescott-Brown. Despite the monumental place that Family Brown holds in Canadian country music history, Tracey and Kelly have proven themselves to be solid branches of “Papa” Joe’s family tree, deserving of much more acclaim and presence than they’ve received to-date. With luck, because there’s certainly no lack of talent on parade here, Kelly and her accomplished trio will replenish these revered roots.
Yet, if truth be told, The Claytones are more than Kelly Prescott, which could so easily be enough. She has teamed with like-minded compadres in fellow lead vocalist, Anders Drerup and double-bassist/vocalist/husband Adam Puddington – between them, deft instrumentalists on a wide-range of complementary instruments: guitar, organ, pedal/lap steel, piano, trumpet, concertina and accordion. Various friends and family have played key roles in Reserva, their second, release – brother Kaylen not only helped produce the disc but had a hand in its graphic design while Pat McLaughlin sits in on mandolin, supplying another layer of backup vocals and some jump-up-and-take-notice mandolin work that becomes a major component of the personality behind this release. Yet it’s the vocal blend of Prescott and Drerup which provides much of the excitement behind this too-short (at 33 minutes) release. Anders Drerup offers the perfect foil to Prescott’s slightly country-sounding voice, his own background and experience nicely complementing the band’s more rootsy sounds while his lead vocals and powers of harmony render him an equal partner. Once the Gram Parsons lead in a popular theatrical production of Grievous Angel: the Legend of Gram Parsons (to Kelly’s Emmylou), Drerup’s been-there/done-that résumé and prior musical relationship with Prescott explains the considerable chemistry that’s audible between them.
Showcasing new material, this live-off-the-floor recording goes a long way towards underlining the maturity of these musicians and the fact that they absorb their limelight equally. Kelly’s lovely vocal on “Mississippi Moon”, with its warm, slight rasp, is propelled by the acoustic guitars and mandolin accompaniment and the warm hint of bass drum percussion. “Young Man Goes West” swaps lead vocals with Drerup while, likewise, the harmonic strengths of Prescott and Puddington cannot be understated. At the same time, if there were no vocals at all, this is a picker’s treat, given the lively acoustic drive of all three players. The softer, gentler “Draw The Drapes” is Drerup’s vehicle – Prescott’s harmonics sounding too perfect to be live (but they are) while the accompaniment of horns lends a Spanish feel to Puddington’s original. The first song to come jumping off this release is, however, Prescott’s vocal treatment of Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You” – all it needs is a campfire and a bottle of wine. Likewise, the perky “I Told My Pillow” lands somewhere between country and bluegrass, with its family-friendly chorus and quick-pulsed acoustic energy. Drerup’s “My Emmylou” is self-explanatory, his strong vocal and acoustic guitar in the foreground while Lynn Miles’ “You Don’t Love Me Anymore” has found a happy home in Prescott’s care – a fine example of what The Claytones do best: breathe fresh life into songs, new and old, with exemplary lead vocals, lush harmonies and smart, tasteful accompaniment. The rich value of Puddington’s bass work proves another vital component of the band’s sound – grounding it and adding a warmth to each composition. Puddington’s own “Look My Way” begins with the feel of a Celtic reel, leading into a feel-good, upbeat Drerup/Prescott duet, Paddington’s bass and McLaughlin’s mandolin contributing a pleasing lilt. The band’s own “Bottle Of Wine” suffers from minor production flaws yet, given that it was recorded live, on a pontoon boat in the middle of a lake, it belongs here. Drerup leads off the traditional Irish tune “Lily of the West” – covered convincingly by so many country-leaning artists – while the group’s harmonies join with concertina and mandolin to render the old classic very much their own.
The good news about this band is their age. So much talent and so much potential, they only need a larger audience and some valuable exposure to explode across the world stage. Will they get it? Will we realize it before we play catch-up, once again, to foreign acclaim? The climate is right for this small band out of Clayton, Ontario. Everything’s in their favour – and ours.