Country Jukebox Jury LPs: Alan Fletcher and JD Clayton

Alan Fletcher – The Point

After an EP in 2022, the man who is still Dr Karl Kennedy in Neighbours puts out a full-length album this February. He’ll return to the UK to promote it while also celebrating the now uncancelled show at the Palladium. As part of the jaunt supporting Lachlan Bryan, who produced The Point, he’ll play smaller venues like The Bedford in Balham and the pokey Bannerman’s on the perpetually sozzled Cowgate in Edinburgh.

The John Prine song Fish and Whistle is the only song from the EP to make it onto the album, which opens with the title track, a gorgeous, Prine-style contemplation of life and love. This suits Alan’s timbre, which sits comfortably in the tenor range.

Hey You is the single or, in modern parlance, the focus track. Alan sings of his best friend, or perhaps a dog, who is ‘watching down on me’. The lovely arrangement, including a smooth acoustic guitar solo, complements the lyric, as does the one on Leaving, with its ultimatum ‘one of us must go’ making it a sad, very country song.

Many of the tracks are similarly meditative. All That I Could Do To Set Her Free is a break-up track where Alan’s narrator seeks our sympathy: ‘Never made a bed but I’ve lied in a few!’ is a good line. Lost and Found (‘the item of concern is a memory’) is addressed to the department of that song’s title, while Quiet Time is a waltz which paints a tableau of a distant couple drinking wine and staring into the future.

The toe-tappier tunes include How Good Is Bed, which begins with the lick from Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones before the chorus kicks into a shuffle to underscore how ‘sleep is the most underrated therapy’. Somebody, which features terrific vocals from Alan’s wife Jennifer Hansen (I think I can guess her motivation!) is one of those bickering duets that Paul Heaton writes for him and Jacqui Abbott: ‘Somebody left the door unlocked!’ ‘Well somebody was in a rush!’

Jack is a song about Alan’s grandfather, who fought in World War II then apparently became a ‘drifter’ and a ‘pioneer’. Closing track Dance Through Time (‘I will sing your praises to the end of days’) finishes with Alan offering a lady a chance with him. He’s a doctor after all, and he has put together an impressive collection which should be heard beyond the soap’s fanbase. Maybe Dr Karl will sing some of Alan’s tunes on the next series of the show.

JD Clayton – Long Way From Home

The influence of The Band and Gram Parsons is strong on this album of country-rock which will please fans of Dawes, my favourite band. There’s not much to say about the album except it’s expertly sung, sumptuously arranged and pleasingly varied.

Goldmine is a delightful love song and I can see why it was chosen as the big single from the album. American Millionaire ambles along nicely, while Beauty Queen has the type of roots-rock band arrangement that sounded great half a century ago and still does today. Midnight Special, based on a Lead Belly tune, is faithful to the bluesy Creedence Clearwater Revival cover, while Different Kind of Simple Life is driven by an acoustic guitar with a marvellous, faded-out pedal steel solo to complement the philosophical lyric.

Heartaches After Heartbreak is a chugger where JD reaches the top of his natural range over some major chords. Cotton Candy Clouds is equally joyous and infectious, especially the moment a minute from the end when JD hollers to bring in the long meandering outro.

The title track is one of those ‘letters To mama’ songs that really are popular with country musicians, and there’s a lot of melancholy in the lyric. JD, who was writing from the ‘ten-year town’ of Nashville, returns to Music City on Sleepy Night in Nashville to close out the album. The multipart harmonies from the band, the mandolin tremolos and the twang in JD’s voice all recall the glory days of those groups who reinvented American rock by giving it a folky tinge.

This, like Western Swing and Dixieland Jazz, is one of the legendary types of musical arrangement that America has given its people.

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