This series of political statements come from a rather unlikely source. Canadian vocalist David Clayton-Thomas rose to fame 52 years ago when Blood, Sweat & Tears commanded the radio with “Spinning Wheel,” “You Made Me So Very Happy” and “And When I Die.” As a solo act, Clayton-Thomas’ albums have been erratic, and most have gone relatively unnoticed. That will not be the case here, whether listeners appreciate his political rants or not. It’s impossible not to pay attention at least initially to Say Somethin’. Now before you get off saying -“He’s a Canadian so it’s easy to criticize the U.S. from across the border,” realize that some of the best political songs have come from Canadians such as Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, and Joni Mitchell, to easily name a few. The messaging here is every bit as fiery as the rants we’ve heard from American artists and bands recently such as Son Volt’s Union, The Felice Brothers’ Undress, Will Hoge’s My American Dream, or the most recent from The Drive-by Truckers, The Unraveling.
Also, be mindful that the music here does not in any way resemble Blood, Sweat & Tears. The music is not what will draw your attention. There are faint hints of blues and gospel but most of it is rather innocuous pop that backs his passionate lyrics. Clayton-Thomas turns to a core backing quartet of Canadians – Lou Pomanti (keys), Eric St. Laurent (guitars), Marc Rogers (bass) and Davide Di Renzo (drums). Clayton-Thomas wrote all ten songs and takes all lead vocals with his immense pipes still very much potent. For one who is in the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and Songwriters Hall of Fame he could easily be resting on his laurels as he approaches 80 years of age. Instead, he realizes that his name still has plenty of awareness, at least with middle-agers on up, so he steps up to say more than something. He needs an outlet for his rage.
He calls for action in the youth justice system with “The System,” two tracks in after beginning with one of the few non-political songs, “Burwash,” about his beginnings in a rock n’ roll band. “The System” is one of four standout tracks that include the powerful “Never Again,” about gun violence plaguing the U.S. “This Town” condemns the lack of execution in our nation’s capital where “nothing seems to get done,” “a town that believes in nothing” and “has no sense of humor.” On the opposite side is his gracious piano-driven hymn “God’s Country,” praising his homeland, not the U.S.
Other tracks include “Dear Mr. Obama,” a gospel hymn for “one who speaks the truth.” “King Midas,” with its Brecht-like melody seems to be a direct hit on Trump as “The Circus” similarly criticizes the incompetency of Trump’s administration. “A Bright Shining City” decries America’s loss of respect in the world.
Yes, this is the same David Clayton-Thomas that you heard on your AM radio in 1968. If you thought he went away, listen up. He is not at all going quietly.