Michael Claytor is at the center of a lot of my most memorable Gainesville music experiences. He held a residency at a cuban restaurant called Flaco’s, playing weekly “Bluegrass Wednesdays” with his band Michael Claytor & His Friends. It was during that time he released his first record We Have an Elephant, which was forevermore for sale behind the sandwich counter. He remained the Wednesday night draw of the town when Adult Boys Thunderband (Claytor & Devon Stuart & oftentimes Eric Atria of Morningbell on bass) started their gig at a wine-and-beer bar called The Bull. One unforgettable winter, Austin Lucas moved to town to keep warm and write some of what became A New Home in the Old World. Claytor and Jason Hedges of Heavy Petty demo’d those songs with Lucas and formed his backing band, Claytor on banjo, Hedges on dobro. That band was called The Choir because, damn, could those guys harmonize.
That’s just a fraction of this guy’s work, letting alone another rock band with Devon Stuart called Brewster Baker and his tenure with indie-pop band Pseudo Kids. He improves everything he’s in. He works with wonderful people. He brings the warmest energy and is possessed of all manner of stupefying talent. That’s why his residencies are so well-received (and so missed by my stupidly out-of-state ass) and why his new album My Trespasses is so welcome.
My Trespasses picks up where We Have an Elephant left off five years ago. Stunning storyteller folk. Peculiar obsessions like constantly seeking permission from your wife’s father and getting caught with counterfeit millions place alongside stories about dying with unfinished business, dying without moral authority, loving through broken promises, and loving shockingly well. (I’ve always loved the set of concerns Claytor deals with–especially the wife stuff.) All set to the most grounded, riveting tuneage. The record sounds great; the band features members of His Friends as well as Andrew Cook from Nook & Cranny. Claytor’s voice is great; he got the job singing with Austin Lucas, remember. Sam Moss’ vocals do stellar, devastating work as well. There’s no overselling this record–it’s gorgeous and there’s nothing unsatisfying about it. There’s a swell on “Dead on Monday Morning” that feels as powerful as any of The Band’s best bridges. The songwriting is Prine-worthy.
There’s been a lot that’s changed in Gainesville since Claytor’s first album and since I’ve last lived there. It’s been weird to watch what little I can of these changes from afar over the internet. Some of the great restaurants and venues are tagging out, as they always do. But there’s new stuff and new bands like Big Shoals. And to see one of the town’s best musicians put forward such an awesome album is big news to me. It’s accessible to anyone, though, and Essential Listening for sure.