- Jack O' the Clock, Leaving California
(Cuneiform Records, CD, digital)
Two themes run throughout Jack O' the Clock's newest LP, Leaving California; one is conceptual, the other structural. The story of the record — or at least the feel of it — is one of exodus, of a song cycle doubling as a farewell. The album's architecture is more complex, featuring songs that seem created by a group of mad scientists who cross musical DNA with supervillain-like glee. Combining those methods, the band has put together a truly intriguing collection of music.
Album opener "Jubilation" establishes Jack O' the Clock's ability to splice styles and feels. The song moves through a powerful, almost Who-like intro, full of furiously strummed acoustic guitar and giant distorted chords before settling into an Americana-driven verse.
"I want to tell you that whatever it is, it is possible," sings vocalist, multi-instrumentalist and chief composer Damon Waitkus. It could be a mission statement from the band, which combines folk, rock and avant-garde in almost incomparable ways. Jack O' the Clock have a sound so distinctive, it almost functions as its own genre.
Waitkus has been the band's focal point since it formed in 2007 in Oakland, Calif. A sophisticated songwriter with an evocative lyrical ability, he is joined by a host of talented players, including bassist Jason Hoopes, drummer Jordan Glenn, violinist Emily Packard (who absolutely tears up a solo on final track "Narrow Gate") and vocalist Thea Kelly.
With nearly a dozen releases to their name, Jack O' the Clock have been a steady presence on the West Coast for years, enjoying renown in both folk and prog circles. In 2019, Waitkus and Packard, who are married, pulled up stakes and moved to Brattleboro, joining an already diverse music community. They wasted no time building a home studio to finish the album that would be Leaving California.
Much of the record carries the energy of that pilgrimage. The title track in particular addresses Waitkus' feelings regarding his former home. "I'm leaving California," he sings. "I never meant to get so drunk, I meant to pass the cup / and with her sails so full of wind, I thought for sure I'd live to see a passage open up."
It is a song about the necessity and inevitability of change, the dark side of which appears in "You Let Me Down." Here Packard's violin layers broad, melodic strokes over Waitkus' acoustic guitar. And in a tremulous voice, Waitkus laments a friend's inability to accept their own mortality: "Life is one big solid mass of connections / and you let me down."
Leaving California is a record with complex lyrics and fearless arrangements. Yet it offers many entry points for aficionados of folk and traditional music, as well as for fans of more modern sounds, particularly progressive rock.
Download the album or order the CD at jackotheclock.com.