A turbulent See
Don’t take Clara Junken lying down
That Marion Grace record, Lying Down Looking Up from 2010, was pretty good, really. A smart roots-rock that was well put together and catchy in places. Not much ever came of it, though. No more than a handful of shows, certainly, and no follow-up from the four-piece.
Now, though, here returns Clara Junken, integral backing vocalist and guitarist in support of Marion Grace frontman Ralph Graceffa, stepping out on her own with a solo record four years later. With her, too, is Aaron Cloutier, drummer and percussionist and co-producer of the new Out to See, a full-length Junken releases this week.
She’s picked up a lot of friends over the last few years. Even long-time vet Flash Allen, who’s been around just about every local block, to play the Hammond organ. He’s pretty vital. His organ is table-setting for “Flyte Point,” the best track here. In the open and finish, there are shades of Carole King and Joni Mitchell, an easy and swaying Sunday afternoon of a song, with a touch of R&B and a wonderful vocal performance.
Like much of this record, though, things aren’t always what they initially seem. About two minutes in, things get all kinds of Four Way Street, with classic ‘60s electric guitar and flashes of psychedelia. Ultimately, it’s fatalistic: “There ain’t no more/ Sink or swim … There’s no one left to ask.”
It’s just a taste of the fairly prog song construction you’ll often find here. Though the arrangements feel like your standard folk and singer-songwriter fare, there’s always another songwriting change-up around the corner, a tempo switch or genre clash. “Brown Eyed Man” is only three minutes or so, but there’s a real contrast between the opening husky vocals over a halting and gravelly electric guitar and the shuffling roots rocker it finishes as, with reminders of Megan Jo Wilson and Ray LaMontagne. “Show Me Your Smile” is this quiet kind of Supertramp (“Give a Little Bit”) — “You’ve been a runaway for so long/ Don’t know how to make you strong” — that changes up completely at the half-way point, with an organ drone that introduces something like a metal band playing Blind Faith’s instruments.
Truthfully, at times it seems almost arbitrary where the song’s going next. There are many of the familiar signs of verse-chorus-verse songwriting, though, so it can be particularly disorienting.
“Middle of May” opens with an a capella lilt, setting you up for something off the Ghost of Paul Revere’s next record. Maybe she dips into a Hessian-style dramatic lilt for a few verses: “And the world keeps turning, turning ‘round the sun/ and I knew then like I know now/ I could be the only one, to let you down.” Expectations are set.
But it goes major after the guitar build, with a riff like “Eye of the Tiger” (just without the crest), apologizes with an “I’m so, so sorry,” and then ramps into a wicka-wicka blaxpoitation jam with horns. Listen for Dave Noyes. He arranged the section and played trombone. There’s at least one signature Rustic Overtones horn line in there.
Finally, we’re back to the beginning, with a scene-setting: “It iced over in the middle of May/ When I left you, standing there.”
Points for the creativity, but it can be hard to find something to hold onto. “Selfish Soul” is maybe the most traditional construction, but the phrases in the chorus change each go-round and the contrast with the verse is a halting pull-back, like Wilco’s “Shake It Off.” Or being the tail-end of a whiplash.
Still, you may keep coming back for Junken’s vocals. She has big range, from a low-end like Kathleen Edwards, capable with bluesy numbers like “You Are the Sun,” to the arcing high note on “misery” in the interestingly constructed title track, which plays on gospel tropes. She can play the guitar, too, with plenty of nice Delta blues fingerstyle on “Sun” and a warm acoustic sound on “See.”
Ultimately, it’s not a big singalong piece, but it’s not too far outside the WCLZ fare for which this town has shown some particular penchant. In front of a full band, especially, Junken ought to be a good way to enjoy the evening.
Photo Credit: Dylan Verner