Late Greats: Josh Clayton-Felt’s Spirit Touches Ground

Josh Clayton-Felt only had one near miss with fame so far as I can tell: 1991’s “Three Strange Days” by his then band School of Fish. It’s a pretty swell piece of east-coast alterna-rock, made all the better by the fact that it predates Nirvana’s Nevermind, but nonetheless probably consigned to discount bin oblivion for the very same reason.

spiritAs Spirit Touches Ground, JCF’s bittersweet posthumous recording amply demonstrates, this was a young man brimming with talent that was unfortunately overshadowed by the times in which he lived.  I could debate endlessly what might’ve happened to this optimistic and apparently good-natured kid had he arrived just a few years later, but that’s not for me to know. His greatest legacy is this gorgeous record filled with songs of love, devotion, friendship, and soul searching that never falls into the trap of self-pity or sophomoric angst. 

On Spirit Touches Ground, JCF’s transcended the “alternative” miasma of the late 90’s by relying on strong songs well performed and simply arranged. The most striking aspect of these songs is the soul that JCF exudes. While never over-emoting, he owned his music like few musicians truly do. Opening track “Building Atlantis” is one of the most wonderful little love songs ever written.  Clayton-Felt’s performance fills the personal and simple lyric with an abundant sweetness. Equally strong are “Backwards World” and “Love Sweet Love”, while harder rockers “Diamond In Your Heart” and the title track play it loose and bring a celebratory flair to a record that might otherwise have been a little TOO bittersweet.

JCF wasn’t afraid to incorporate other, more unorthodox influences in his music as well. The Arabian flourishes of “Night of a Thousand Girls” and the silly white-kid funk of Invisible Tree” and “Kid on the Train” bring altogether different layers to the album. But it’s the final two tracks that really seal the deal. “Waiting to Be” is a beautiful acoustic confessional that brings us back to earth, with Clayton-Felt’s chorus – “You’re waiting to be/What you already are/You’re the only one left in your way” –  landing squarely in the gut. The closer, “Dragonfly,” is an altogether epic and otherworldly track that demonstrates the true greatness that JCF was advancing upon when his life was quickly cut short. One can imagine this track being played at his funeral; perhaps we can even imagine “Dragonfly” being written by Josh himself knowing of his impending death. No matter the significance we’d like to attach to the song, it is a hush-inducing mystical track full of beauty and wonder, and a great way to close an album, a career, and a life.

While it’s a shame that a hard-working, humble, and joyful musician like Josh Clayton-Felt can die an ultimately honorable death and leave a legacy that goes largely unnoticed, one gets the sense from spending time with this record that Josh himself would be just fine with that. He seems to be the type of guy who was more concerned with the love of family and friends than with aspirations of fame and fortune. And for that reason, I salute him for leaving us with an absolutely fabulous record that truly communicates who he was so that successive individuals can continue to befriend him through his music.

Anyone else out there heard this record, or familiar with Josh’s music?


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