Paul Sammon reviews Dirt Road Therapy, the new six track EP from CLAYTON SMALLEY
Already steady in the top 5 of the UK iTunes chart, Clayton Smalley’s latest release is as country as it gets. Slide guitar, fiddle and songs about love, loss and his Dad’s old truck. Here’s my take on Dirt Road Therapy. With songs penned by John Griffin and Steve Dean (Watching You – Rodney Atkins, Walk On – Reba McEntire) I’m sure you’re in for a treat.
They say write about what you know, so when the first verse of the opening track, Two Lane Time Machine tells us about crashing his Dad’s truck, I can assure you this isn’t just some stereotypical ‘Bro Country’ song. In Clayton’s own words, the truck is “…a ’64 F100, still sitting in my garage. It’s not totalled but there’s a lot of work to be done.” The arrangement reminds me of The Eagles blended with that “trucker song” sound. A solid start to the collection.
Looking back, do we thank Johnny Cash for this next song? If Merle Haggard hadn’t seen the legend as a resident of San Quentin back in ’58 and been inspired to follow a musical career himself, then would Modern Day Merle even exist? It’s my favourite track of the six; heavy on the rockier sound and certainly more raucous than the others, telling the story of a hard-working man singing his songs. There’s still plenty of fiddle though. Definitely a country song, not a rock song, have no fear.
One of two ballads here, Phoenix Rise is quite introspective, reflecting on being alone and wishing he could start again. A man that’s lived a lie all his life but now he recognises that, albeit a little too late, hence wishing he could set fire to it all and “from the ashes of what used to be, like a phoenix rise.” It’s quite a sad sentiment but one that would probably ring true with more of us than would care to admit.
It would be nice to believe our character in the previous tune didn’t in fact turn to arson but, instead, got in his ride, rolled down the windows and learned as he drove away a little Dirt Road Therapy was just what he needed. A feel-good song that is full of hope and a realisation that leaving your cares behind with the country radio up loud can be the cure for many a bad day. Worthy of being the title to the EP.
I really hope to see Clayton come here and perform to a UK crowd. Track five is a party tune that demands drinks to be held high or hands to be clapped while we chant the chorus back to him on stage. We all know, as country fans, we Never Let A Good Time Get Away and this sits well here as another facet of the kind of country music he can produce.
Some time ago the stars must have lined up because, on the night Clayton met Randy Travis he saw John Griffin perform what was to become the last track on the EP. He says, “…I knew from the first verse I wanted to record this song.” I’m so glad he did. Watch Me Fall is a beautiful and soulful ballad of the calibre we would expect from Aaron Watson or Kenny Chesney. It’s the song that will get him noticed I feel. That little gem in the collection with a different kind of sparkle.
Sometimes he’s ball cap, sometimes he’s cowboy hat but there’s no doubt he’s always country. I think the release should solidify Clayton Smalley as an act to be taken seriously. Especially when coupled together with Whiskey Sunrise from last year. His writing team, smooth voice and the smart production on this make it an EP deserving of widespread attention. Here and in the US and I hope he goes on to greater things.
- Two Lane Time Machine
- Modern Day Merle
- Phoenix Rise
- Dirt Road Therapy
- I Never Let A Good Time Get Away
- Watch Me Fall