Pure, simple, homey country and bluegrass charm
REVIEW OF TWO CLAY COUNTY ALBUMS:
San Dimas, California may not be considered as the center of the bluegrass universe, but it's been home to Clay County, a band that presents an old-time and folky musical style that exudes earthy appeal and a good time feeling. Originally from Clay County, West Virginia, banjo-player Jim Dawson formed the group in 1987 with mandolinist Frank Abrahams and guitarist Susan Nikas. Bass player Jim Logue is the bass player on the albums, although he has since left the band to be replaced by Leslie Spitz. On their third (How's Your Heart?) and fourth (Waiting for the Fall) albums, the band is supplemented with the guest artistry of Dennis Caplinger who provides solid banjo, dobro, fiddle, mandolin licks, fills and breaks. He's also credited with electric bass on Clay County's fourth album. The other "star" of both of these projects is lead vocalist Susan Nikas, who composed nearly all of the material on both CDs. Some of her songs work better than others, and perhaps just a little retooling would help those where she asserts her poetic license to use a few awkward rhymes to get her message across. She pays tribute to Hoyt Axton in the song, "For Hoyt," who inspired her with such wisdom as "success is loving what you do, and you just loved to sing." Nikas' husky alto is a little more calm and sedate than those women's voices in the belt-em-out school of Rose Maddox and Molly O'Day. I especially liked those songs that could be considered novelty numbers like "Got Milk?" and "Long Hot Bath." Others like "Pay Your Money" have catchy little melodies and repetitive lyrics that are easy to embed on the memory.
My guess is that Clay County would be crowd-pleasers at traditional bluegrass festivals where attendees in an older demographic group casually like to tap their toes, hum along and sway to the beat of the band on melodic numbers like "Little Liza Jane." I also understand that Clay County has won numerous contests including the Topanga Banjo and Fiddle Contest. Don't expect these discs to win Grammy Awards, but what they lack in flawless musicality is offset by pure, simple, and homey country charm. All song lyrics are included in the albums' jackets. Clay County's attitude towards music might best be described in Nikas' self-penned "That Old Familiar Melody" in which she sings "Play the tunes while we can, laugh and dance, sing and grin." (Joe Ross, staff writer, Bluegrass Now)