Jay Clifford
Silver Tomb for the Kingfisher
(Hello Telescope)

Jay Clifford — a veteran of the local scene who normally feels right at home with a guitar hook and a vocal melody — hasn’t lost a lick of his breathy, emotive delivery, judging by the songs on his new elegant and airy album, Silver Tomb for the Kingfisher. In fact, the Charleston-based songwriter seems determined to explore textural combinations culled from the classic pop realm with the highest-pitched, most whispery vocal work of his lengthy career.

Listening to any of the moody songs on Silver Tomb for the Kingfisher might conjure a few sad notions. Lyrically and vocally, Clifford’s heightened sense of emotional vulnerability is often stunning. Musically, it all resonates with a very different vibe from anything he’s ever released.

From the first delicate verses of the acoustic guitar-based “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants” through the dream-state sad waltz of the piano-driven “6th and Central Park,” Clifford’s heartfelt songs are just as eclectic and clever as his former band Jump, Little Children’s strongest recordings, but there’s a lot of distance between them.

Silver Tomb for the Kingfisher pulsates with a very different mood from Clifford’s original work in the 1990s and 2000s. Few songs would fit well on his 2007 solo debut, Driving Blind. If his previous recordings tended to be guitar-rock tunes with oddball instrumentation, this set barely bases anything on the traditional foundation of guitar-bass-drums at all.

Very much at the helm, Clifford recorded Silver Tomb for the Kingfisher at his Hello Telescope studio with assistance from co-owner and frequent musical cohort Josh Kaler. They utilized an array of instruments.

The piano-driven “Clockwork” rollicks in and out of steady 4/4 time with ease, slowly leading up to a hypnotic full-band chorus, replete with orchestra bells, shakers, and falsetto harmonies. Clifford sings the slow-grooving, strings-laden “Still So Far Away” almost entirely in falsetto. The same goes for “St. Augustine’s Restless,” one of the more upbeat and hooky tunes of the bunch.

Among the acoustic ballads and sparse pop numbers are several spaced-out, psychedelic gems. David Bowie would have loved to have penned and produced “One of Us.” The song shuffles quietly with simple electric piano in the background before it gradually welcomes extra pedal steel, cymbals, and strings into the mix. It’s beautiful and weird.

Throughout the collection, Clifford’s emphatic voice almost overshadows his crisp acoustic guitar work, which anchors most of the album with precision and warm tones.

Silver Tomb for the Kingfisher may be a shock to some old-school Clifford fans, but it shows a keen sense of innovation on his part. (jayclifford.com)