Clayton John’s music wears its influences on its sleeve. He doesn’t pretend that his art doesn’t owe a sizable debt to his years listening to artists such as Billy Joel, The Beatles, and others. His piano-driven songwriting, however, has long since discovered its own voice. Clayton has subsumed the best of the aforementioned artists and filtered it through his consciousness and experiences to produce an unique and memorable “voice”. The voice he’s discovered is present in everything he writes and records. His latest single “River” is an ideal example of his process in action and its results.

The track has already gained an impressive degree of notoriety. “River” has garnered important awards such as the 2022 W.A.M. Silver Award for Best Song in the Adult Contemporary category and other laurels. It isn’t difficult to hear why. He conjures a couple of varying piano sounds during the performance but primarily relies on acoustic keys to convey the song’s melodic strengths. His playing is often quite lyrical.

It has an appropriate percussive quality that pairs well with the drumming. The drums do not immediately hit with the song’s opening and holding back on their entrance is a shrewd move that emphasizes the cut’s dramatic nature. It is rife with emotion. Augmenting the arrangement with powerful, yet never overstated, guitar only heightens the song’s gravitas. “River” benefits from outstanding lead guitar at several points during the recording.

The lyrics are poetic, yes, but plain-spoken. There are no self-indulgent flights of fancy weighing the song down. It has a sense of place that many songs of this ilk do not possess and achieves an universal resonance that will appeal to a wide swath of listeners. Clayton has a mastery of songwriting that balances the personal and accessible without giving priority to one approach over the other.

His voice is the icing on the cake. It has an unquestionable nasal quality, but never so much that listening to his singing becomes a chore. His vocals are rich with emotion. Clayton lives inside of the song during the performance rather than merely hitting his marks and the obvious emotional investment in the piece that he’s made elevates the track for listeners and helps underline its emotional weight.

It’s the latest achievement for an under the radar singer/songwriter who won’t be obscure for much longer. Clayton John has all the necessary tools. He’s honed his songwriting craft to fine edge and understands how to integrate his lyrical ambitions with the right musical mood. It is a ballad, but never a cookie cutter illustration of the style. “River”, instead, reaches inside listeners and touches their heart with the cool confidence of someone who has seen heartbreak and lived to tell the tale.

We’ll be hearing much more from this talented singer/songwriter performer. He’s a marvelous case study about how a talented artist can take the best from their influences and turn that input into something uniquely their own. Clayton John hasn’t even peaked yet, but we want to be listening when he does. 

Garth Thomas