James Clay doesn't sound like a 22-year-old. His gritty, soulful voice sings of wisdom beyond his age. However, this worship leader, husband and father of two has lived enough to fill a few lifetimes. Growing up in poverty, Clay had to support his mother and siblings at the age of 14. He began to make sense of his life with an $80 dollar guitar. Less than ten years later, Clay is a new artist on Inpop Records, and his self-titled debut album reveals the spiritual and musical maturity that can only come from knowing the faithfulness of God.
Out of the gate, James Clay hits you with a modern rock cover of The Call's "I Still Believe." Here you get a real flavor of Clay's skills with a guitar. Influenced by Phil Keaggy and Jimi Hendrix, Clay can make a six-string sing. Next up is the first radio single, "Franklin Park," a bouncy, pop adventure through Clay's old neighborhood. With organs and guitars, the quirky chorus reminded me of the Counting Crows' "Rain King." Clay sings, "I'm a kid in Franklin Park / I feel I float in Noah's Ark / I love my friends with all my heart / And they don't care / Lord I'm bringing them to You / From this place we call the zoo."
The greatness of his album lies in its diversity. Clay's vocals differ slightly in every song, recalling Edwin McCain one moment and Mac Powell of Third Day the next. The same is true of James Clay musically. It is an eclectic mix of blues, rock and just about anything that can be done on a guitar. Clay lets his inner Bob Marley shine through on "Judah's Song" and "Send Salvation." "Wicked Woman" rocks the hardest, while "Sabotage" is like a lazy Sunday afternoon with a country twang.
It's an understatement to say Clay is multi-talented. In addition to his strong voice and guitar talents, Clay's simple lyrics drive straight for your heart. Many songs are written as divine messages. In "On Your Knees," he penned, "'Cause in my hands there are scars / I would've held you but you nailed them down / In your heart there's holes only I can fill / But on your knees / I know you there / I can touch you there." In another song, "Anyway," Clay talks about the odd sense of peace God gave him during the September 11th crisis. As he observed his daughter obliviously playing in front of the television that replayed the tragedy, he wrote, "If I've learned anything from Grace / Just from watching her play / You dance when you want to / Don't let anyone stand in your way / If the whole world is silent / Or if doubt is all they have to say / You sing your song anyway."
James Clay could be your favorite album if given the chance. Clay's honest, humble lyrics tap into God's heart for the ordinary, everyday man. His sound embraces a wide world of guitar-heavy melodies from reggae to rock. Altogether James Clay is a spiritual journey described in folk music that takes you someplace different every time.