David Clayton-Thomas Has the Urge to 'Say Somethin''
David Clayton-Thomas' Say Somethin' probably won't sell 10 million copies like the eponymous Blood, Sweat & Tears album did, but it's a rich and valuable record in its own right.
20 March 2020
David Clayton-Thomas was once a big star as the lead singer with a distinctively strong voice of Blood, Sweat & Tears during the band's heyday 50 years ago. That's him belting out "What goes up / must come down" on their big hit "Spinning Wheel", a song he wrote. Since then, his career has had its fill of ups and downs. The man who once packed large arenas and sold-out shows, including Woodstock 1969, has since played at rural county fairs and small town 4th of July celebrations for free. That's nothing to be ashamed of. What's popular is no indication of talent. It is the rare act that can stay on top for decades. His willingness to keep on performing reveals his troubadour spirit. He still has something to say, as he puts it on his latest solo release, Say Somethin'.
Clayton-Thomas has a big, burly voice (the closest modern equivalent would be Rag 'n' Bone Man). He began as a blues singer, and that influence on his music is still abundantly clear, which maybe is another way of saying he sings with feeling. Even with he's addressing topical concerns such as gun violence, climate change, immigration, and American politics (he is a Canadian), his intellectual musings are couched with strong emotions.
Although Clayton-Thomas is in his late 70s, he still remembers his roots. On the autobiographical "Bushwah", he tells the tale of being in jail as a young man and discovering his musical talents. The song builds to a climax as we learn of this moment's pivotal importance in his life. He then launches into an informed critique of the modern judicial system from his view as a formerly incarcerated citizen on "The System". Clayton-Thomas takes things personally and trusts his instincts to understand what is right and what is wrong—and there is much he sees in need of improvement. Or as he puts in the titles of other tracks on the album, we are on "The Precipice" and living in a "The Circus"—with President Trump as ringmaster.
Clayton-Thomas expresses his admiration for the previous president on the gospel dirge "Dear Mr. Obama", but tempers his praise with an understanding of the problems of poverty and such that plague the nation. Clayton-Thomas also tells the story of another leader, "King Midas", the moral of which is "the best things in life a free". What good is a golden wife and golden friends who can't talk or feel? That may be an allegory for Donald Trump but also works as a story on its own merits.
Clayton-Thomas doesn't mince words on "Never Again" as he addresses gun violence in the schools and the power of the National Rifle Association. "Weapons that were made for war / don't belong in my hometown," he defiantly croons, "enough is enough". His view of America as "A Bright and Shining City" has been dimmed by its current policies, he sings on a cut with that title.
The songs are bolstered by a strong group of players, including Lou Pomanti on keyboards, Eric St. Laurent on guitars, Marc Rogers on bass, and Davide Di Renzo on drums. They match his tone and intonations when he sings loudly, but more importantly, understand when to lay back when Clayton-Thomas lowers the volume to express his thoughts passionately.
Say Somethin' probably won't sell 10 million copies as the eponymous Blood, Sweat & Tears album did, but it's a rich and valuable record in its own right. Times have changed, but happily, Clayton-Thomas is still making music worth hearing.