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Jack o' the Clock — Leaving California
(Cuneiform Rune 477, 2021, CD / DL)

by Jon Davis, Published 2021-07-12

Leaving California Cover art

Leaving California stands as a kind of capstone to the first phase of the history of Jack o’ the Clock. Since its founding in 2007 by musicians associated with Mills College, the band has been based in the Bay Area of California, polishing and perfecting their unique style of music combining American folk, chamber music, rock, and jazz. In 2019, leader Damon Waitkus and his wife, violinist Emily Packard, decided it was time for a change and moved to Vermont. This album features compositions that had been gestating in the group’s repertoire for some time as well as some more recent pieces. Like any major life change, there is a mixture of positive and negative emotions, with joyful hope contrasting with apprehension and reflection. “Jubilation” starts the album with a furiously strummed acoustic guitar and aggressive bass backing beautiful vocal harmonies. As always with this band, the combination of instruments used in the arrangements is immensely appealing, as are the individual styles of the musicians — after more than ten years, Waitkus and company know how to play together and have developed an idiom that suits them perfectly. The backbone of most songs is a combination of acoustic strings (guitar, mandolin, hammer dulcimer) from Waitkus with bass (Jason Hoopes) and drums (Jordan Glenn), and that is augmented by violin (Packard), woodwinds (Ivor Holloway), electric guitar (Waitkus), and voices (Waitkus and Thea Kelley). Other instruments show up from time to time to provide more color and variety, like keyboards, accordion, cello, and pedal steel. In addition to brief songs like “Jubilation,” there are more substantial pieces like “The Butcher,” “Fascination,” and “Narrow Gate.” The album’s title track brings in pedal steel for a rootsy sound that reminds me of what might have happened if Crosby, Stills, and Nash had collaborated with Van Dyke Parks. The lovely “A Quarter-Pate Ad” features Thea Kelley’s voice backed by strings, with composer Waitkus sitting it out, while “Fascination” is all Waitkus with Glenn providing bass drum. Kelley’s voice appears prominently in several tracks and is a beautiful addition to the band’s sound. Leaving California is the product of a mature band at the top of their game, and we can hope that their bi-coastal next phase continues the upward trajectory.

Filed under: New releases, 2021 releases

Related artist(s): Jack o' the Clock

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