Cass Clayton Band – Play Nice – Album Review
I’m absolutely impressed with the amount of soul & skill combined throughout this record.
You might not realize it from the quaint sounds of “Dawes County” as the album begins, but you’ll find a ton of versatile material throughout the length of Play Nice. Don’t get me wrong, each and every song plays a role in that versatility – this song included of course; it’s just not until after you spin the rest of this record that you end up appreciating just how far it’ll go from where it’ll start, know what I mean? “Dawes County” is a quintessential blend of Folk & Americana fused together as one, with just that right hint of Rock to give the whole thang a sweet crossover sound, something akin to how Tom Petty or The Boss used to go about makin’ their tunes accessible in that sense, filled with tremendous tones, details & melody – just like what Cass Clayton Band creates for ya here. You get the storyteller’s vibe from the lyrical imagery & descriptions, you get that Americana down-homesiness to the sound, and of course, to get that Rock into the song, Cass Clayton Band shifts gears to make that happen as well; nothing even close to abrasive – we’re talkin’ smooth sailing through “Dawes County” and a solid first impression of this talented crew of musicians. Music all sounds in-line, the band plays together tightly, and Cass gives you a sample dose of the soulful style she’ll bring to the microphone without revealing all her cards at once; you’ll get a controlled & professional performance from her that proves she’s got the passion & heart to back up the sweet soul in her voice – and you’ll hear her surge with power, energy, and melody when called upon, like just after the three-minute mark when she lights up the mic with a real highlight.
Solid first impression for sure – but it’s tracks like “Little Things” that prove a second helping can taste that much better – this track is pretty much amazing when it comes right down to it. The infusion of just a hint of a throwback vibe & that old-school soul in Clayton’s vocals become a massive asset to this particular tune – all I hear in “Little Things” is one big wonderful moment of true universal appeal. There’s such an impressive warmth & glow to the music; the trumpets are absolutely off-the-charts cool in this tune, the percussion/drums keep the beat innovative & interesting to listen to – and the amount of charm, charisma, and genuine spark that the main star of the show gives ya can’t be denied. Cass is beyond fantastic; endearing & powerful in equal doses – and with a comfort, confidence, and cool that an artist like Bonnie Raitt would bring to her music – REAL R&B – you absolutely can’t take your ears off her performance on “Little Things.” There’s so much remarkable personality on display here in this second tune that it’s impossible to describe – you feel “Little Things.” From the colorful excitement, enthusiasm, and imagination in the music, to the detailed & deeper levels below the surface in the lyrics that examine what is/isn’t important in life – Cass Clayton Band has covered all angles here from the more straight-ahead & soulful vibes to the extremely avant-garde musicianship brilliantly flexed along the way. For as wild & imaginative as this can get at times – you’ll be impressed with how smooth the ride to get to those moments can be, making it the ultimate payoff when you reach these flavor-filled morsels of music that all stack up into vibrant mini-jams & solos, or smart fills in throughout the song.
Undeniably on a roll with this record, Cass Clayton Band has got one of the most title-worthy songs I’ve heard this year & I mean that as sincerely as ever – “Play Nice” is an outstanding tune in every sense of the word. As I’ve mentioned many times on these pages, the pressure of a title-track & centerpiece of a record can quite often get the better of an artist/band as they try to get across the main points or message, themes & what not – or sometimes just live up to the epic responsibilities of naming an album after one specific tune; we all want them to be the best songs we’ll find in the lineup, they’re so often not. This one however…stands a fantastic chance of earning those honors from many of you out there; I’ll reserve judgment as to what’s ‘the best’ on an album like this full of quality cuts for now – but rest assured, I ultimately feel the same way I’m sure. Jon Wirtz on the keys deserves a shout-out here for his essential contributions to this song, as do Brian Claxton for the straight-up amazing sound on the drums on “Play Nice” and Chris Harris for holding the fort down so solidly in the rhythm section on the bass as well. The music moves at a mesmerizing pace with a mystifying melody at work – and when it comes to the chorus, Cass sings this part of the song so immaculately that it’s truly impossible to do her performance justice through words. Bottom line is, she gets to the heart of the melody on “Play Nice” with exceptional precision, like a songwriter’s surgery of sorts – every note you’ll hear her sing is in the exact spot it should be and the way she sings it proves just what a world-class professional she really is. You factor in how incredible the surrounding guitar work is from Taylor Scott (co-writer/producer of Play Nice) and Cass is on this title-track and you’ve got yourself a complete recipe for subtle success; “Play Nice” is sexy, sleek, relatable, & real with a unique, beautiful, & extraordinary melody to be found at the core of this song.
“What about the B Side?” Indeed. If it wasn’t for the fact that Cass Clayton Band has taken the steps of creating a song actually CALLED “B Side” I’d have fully proclaimed that this outfit doesn’t ever make one. Here’s where I’m at with this tune and where it sits in this lineup of songs – it’s perfectly placed in my opinion; it’s a loose groove that reestablishes the coolness in the R&B vibes of Cass Clayton Band, making it an excellent candidate to come right after “Play Nice,” which is arguably one seriously ‘A Side’ of a tune. My point is that, any song would have potentially taken a hit coming after such a strong tune on the record, but “B Side” ends up handling this like they’re all brushing the dirt off their shoulders & like the challenge really ain’t no thang at all – and that’s how this song ends up finding success through your speakers. Is it “Play Nice?” No…not by a country mile it’s not – but that doesn’t at all mean it doesn’t bring something extraordinarily valuable to this album, which it certainly does in serving the record’s overall flow by serving up a completely smooth groove with “B Side.” And I’ll say this…I’m not even 100% sure what creates the neon-awesome sound around the three-minute mark…I’m 99% sure it’s a guitar, but that’s how brilliantly morphed the tone really is…could be bass, could be keys – it’s that much of a wild sound & it audibly leaps from your speakers as “B Side” heads to the end of its length. Digging the backing vocals, digging the chops they put on display on this tune – this sounds to me like a roomful of musicians really having themselves a great time; not out to recreate the wheel here, they’re here to supply ya with a good time and they certainly achieve that goal in the way they play “B Side.”
What an uplifting personality! Cass is continually stunning throughout the vocals on this record, and she lives up to the praise with her performance on “No Use In Crying” – she’ll carry a large portion of this tune on her own really. While there’s always a lil’ something in the music somewhere to support her, you’ll also hear large stretches in the verses where it’s pretty much her & the drums, maybe one other element popping up here & there – and LISTEN to how the melody in this song never drops, never gets any less shiny than when it starts – that’s the power of the X-factor at work right there is what that is. Loving the trumpet sounds & keyboards together…brilliant combo there…the bass is movin’ & grooving, the piano is excellent, the guitars as essential as ever…if anything, I wasn’t always 100% sure of the steady beat supplied to the verse of this track or whether than fully worked for me, but I can’t deny the energy it brings to this song either. That being said, the best moments for the drums (of which there are many) happen in those shifts away from it into the chorus where the opportunity to add a bit more personality into the movement exists; the steady beat does exactly what it’s supposed to do, which is support Cass as she makes her moves on the microphone and puts the melody & soul into “No Use In Crying.” Really digging the mix on this song all-around…the guitar solo is absolutely awesome for both its amazing tone & style…and of course, growing up as the son of a professional keyboardist, hearing a band like Cass Clayton Band take a moment or two here & there to let the keys have their time in the spotlight always brings a smile to my face. Exceptional slide into the chorus of this tune…I think for as much as the verses of “No Use In Crying” really show you just how continually entertaining this band can be, it’s the magic of the moment you hear them lock into during the melody of the chorus that fully reveals just how special this combination of musicians & talents really is. Loving the writing, loving the musicianship the Cass Clayton Band backs it all up with – there’s quite simply, nothing not to love here.
“Tattered And Torn” will again speak to just how much the full band brings to these recordings and the stunning balance of strengths between the players in Cass Clayton Band. And yet still, no matter how much credit I can give them personally or how much I can hear their individual skills – I’m probably just like so many of you out there that can hardly take their ears off of Cass’ incredible voice. Amazing as ever, she delivers brilliantly graceful & bold verses on “Tattered And Torn” and pours emotion into the words – and hearing her transition this melody into the chorus is a real breathtaking highlight. A genuinely understated one too – “Tattered And Torn” sways with a gentle disposition and never gets too rowdy at all, remaining in a slower gear and sweet combination of heartbreaking words & energy that perfectly suits this song. Cass Clayton Band does an excellent job with contrast…many of the thought-provoking words, thoughts, feelings, and emotions on display throughout this song will definitely hit their mark and get you thinkin’ – but you’ll also notice the ever-present uplifting vibe supplied by the music as well. It still matches the theme somehow, yet also offers a musical ray of sunshine & hope that lightens-up this vibe in a remarkably comforting & welcoming way…you feel the brokenness in the spirit of the storyline…that Cass is weary in her search for love here…but that she’s also far from out of the fight & the search for the love she’s looking for. “Tattered And Torn” is really gorgeous & well-written.
Bringin’ in the SLICKNESS for some of that good-good call & answer style writing – that’s a relationship you’ll find between the music & vocals as Cass will bust out a smooth & soulful line to start & you’ll hear the incredible keys from John respond in-kind right afterwards throughout the verses of “You’ll See.” Another highlight for the Cass Clayton Band? “You’ll See.” You’ll probably hear it too if you’re using the same kind of technology on your head as I am – aka ears – to listen. It’s around this point on the record that you have to surrender and acknowledge that this crew isn’t about to give in any time soon and all of a sudden put out a song that ain’t worth your time – it’s more than clear in entering the second-half of Play Nice that Cass Clayton Band has every intention of making this latter set of tunes every bit as entertaining as the first. “You’ll See” is just as much fun as it is skillful…one of those low-end infused grooves that simply cannot & will not be denied by anyone listening – this is that jam that’s bound to get you movin’ to the dance-floor or to the front of the audience to see this magic happen right up close. Very impressive use of space, timing, and pace throughout this track – it’d be impossible to miss – Cass Clayton Band flexes finesse and some serious chops throughout the course of this tune – “You’ll See.” And just as I’m promised ya, you’ll hear it – they rock this cut with authentic style & real craftsmanship.
“The Most Beautiful” – where do I even start with this unexpected gem? Here’s the thing…it’s expected in the sense that, being called “The Most Beautiful,” you do assume you’ll find the sweet & gentle sound that you get on this tune – but other than that, welcome to the world of the unknown, the random, and a unique & stunning piece of songwriting that absolutely sets this band apart from the rest out there. Cass proudly leads us under the circus tent on this song…not the one you’re picturing, but the one that encompasses the entire world that we can’t see, but clearly exists; and under it, you’ll find all kinds of odd, extraordinary, and beautiful creatures we’ve decided to call human beings. With all their flaws, with all their bizarreness, with all their physical or mental deformities & deficiencies – Cass shows you that “The Most Beautiful” thing about all of these characters she’ll introduce you to, is that we’re all in this thing together. We’re all under that tent…these are the people we know & we love, as crazy as they might appear, or as weird as they might be – we also wouldn’t have it any other way if push came to shove. Now…these are all just theories of course, but I’d imagine that this is what Cass Clayton Band is looking to communicate through this story they’ve created on “The Most Beautiful” – and it’s a concept that they build with fantastic imagery in the lyrics and a melody that heads straight for the heart. You’ll hear what I was saying from the get-go here once those words begin, I can promise ya that – you just don’t see lyrics like these coming inside of such a delicate song – and in my opinion, it really stands out for all the right reasons as a result. “The Most Beautiful” is pretty much inarguably “The Most Beautiful” when it comes to the sound of the music you’ll hear on this record – but you’ll truly be amazed by the detail in the words and just how effective the imagery of this song becomes as you listen. I could be wrong in my theories about its ultimate meanings, and you’re bound to have your own as well – the real bottom line is that the music is perfectly supporting the words here, and you’ll want to hear absolutely every syllable that Cass Clayton sings to find out where this whole story goes & what’s being revealed.
Mannnnnnnnnnnn I tell ya – I hear the beginning of a song like “Doesn’t Make Sense” and it can’t help BUT make sense to my ears – I’m movin’ and groovin’ in this chair EVERY single time this track comes on. And then the volume goes up once again…and here we are, lovin’ life and completely diggin’ this record that Cass Clayton Band has come up with – Play Nice has endless amounts of repeat-value and sheer sonic cool running through its set-list. Songs like “Doesn’t Make Sense” that lock into such a noteworthy rhythm & flow while so expertly using the space to their advantage shows just how smart & slick the songwriting of this whole band really is…it’s all about knowing when to join in on the action & when to let the other players have their moment to shine. I mean, Cass is obviously gonna shine no matter what as long as there’s a microphone in front of her and an amp to plug into – but you get what I mean & you’ll hear it too – there’s a ton of space within the structure of a song like “Doesn’t Make Sense,” which leads to the fact that, when each instrument shows up in the mix, it’ll make a positive contribution and genuine impact when you listen. LISTEN to that first muted-string guitar-riff sound thing happenin’ on the way into this tune though will ya? Freakin’ brilliant is what that is…what a musical hook! Such an enticing sound…and you add in the personality of the band combined to go along with it, and you’ve once again got the recipe for a smooth groove that keeps the vibe loose, fun, and insanely cool to experience. One of those tunes that’s guaranteed to get your head noddin’ along with the bass-lines.
Bringin’ in a lil’ mo’ Funk onto the record fo’ ya – “Flowers At My Feet” instantly starts to present a vibrant bounce to its sound – and you’ll find this relentlessly catchy cut just keeps on continuing to get better & better from there. Good lord! What a highlight! Every time I felt like this album couldn’t potentially get any more enjoyable, Cass Clayton Band would create something like this that absolutely stole the show all over again – this lady’s voice is second to NONE when she lets the power take hold. You’ll find massive moments from Cass on the mic within the chorus of “Flowers At My Feet” – and you’ll discover a whole boatload of entertaining and gripping instrumentation alongside her throughout this entire tune. I’d probably go as far as to say that I’d be seriously considering this as a single to put out there to entice the people into this record with…”Flowers At My Feet” has got amazing doses of character & charisma within the sound and huge highlights on the guitar & microphone that can’t be missed out on. Obviously I’ve long been convinced of the awesomeness in Cass Clayton Band before this song in the lineup – but if this ain’t the sound of complete confirmation, I honestly don’t know what is. They’re everything I’ve promised you they are throughout this review & much more – I guarantee it.
And I’m not even remotely kidding when I say I could have listened to ten-minutes more of “Slow Kiss” – it’s an incredible song, even as short as it is at just 1:15 in length. So of course, in that respect, it plays like a lead-in or an intro…but like…I mean…it’s almost not even fair for it to be as addictive as it actually is! It’s quaint, it’s welcoming, it’s stocked full of beautiful melody that speaks right to the soul – an all instrumental tune that’s mainly keys & drums & nothing more…but in my opinion, that’s all this needed. What is undeniably interesting to my ears though, beyond the awesomely subtle tune they’ve got recorded here…is the way that “Slow Kiss” fades out; if you’re listening closely, you’ll hear an absolutely key transition in the melody happening right towards the very end…and it hints that, there could very well still be more to come with this idea…whether it’s through their live-performances, or another recording down the road – to me, it’s more than clear there’s still more to be mined in this song. And for what it’s worth, I sincerely hope they go on to discover every morsel & musical nugget of gold to be found by exploring this even further – I felt like “Slow Kiss” is a great taste of something potentially even more captivating and amazing than it already is in this short minute-plus form we find it in here now.
Not that there was any doubt left at this point, but of course, the Cass Clayton Band brings it home with a solid conclusion to Play Nice with “Strange Conversation” at the end. Probably one of the more enchanting songs you’ll find in the lineup, they dial it back brilliantly, letting the gentle combination of hypnotic guitars, keys, & drums hold down the majority of the fort, while Cass lights-up the microphone one last time. A unique & innovative tune with a ton of professional control, Clayton & her cohorts dive deep into the soulful sounds & melodies of music’s golden-era, giving “Strange Conversation” just a sweetened hint of slightly psych-60’s vibe in there as well. Giving you a final performance & switch in the direction of sound to remember…I feel like I can’t say enough about “Strange Conversation,” or this entire record when it comes right down to it…I feel like there’s no question that we’ve uncovered a true highlight of the year with Play Nice and what Cass Clayton Band has put together throughout this whole album. “Strange Conversation” is one of the album’s most isolated and interesting tunes for sure – and it makes for an extraordinary ending to what’s been an absolutely exceptional record from beginning to end. I’d be passing out some serious high-fives around the Cass Clayton Band camp – I don’t know what they expected with Play Nice, or even what I did really…but I can tell ya it 100% exceeded all my wildest hopes. I’m addicted to Clayton’s voice, but every bit as addicted to these sweet songs she’s written and how well this band she’s got around her brings’em to life – I’ll be listening to this record for years to follow I’m sure & I’d be more than willing to bet there’s a whole legion of listeners that’ll feel the same.
Find out more about Cass Clayton Band at the official pages below!
Official Website: https://cassclayton.com
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