Jake Clayton has become Nashville’s go-to session guy for anything with strings and more, playing a variety of instruments on recordings by Brandy Clark, Chris Young, Bubba Sparxxx and others. Now Clayton’s instrumental work can be heard in a somewhat unexpected place, on the title track of pop icon Donny Osmond’s newest album, Start Again.
Osmond just opened a Las Vegas residency to coincide with the release of the album, with a lyrically uplifting title track that features Clayton playing all the instruments on a 16-piece string orchestra track, recorded at his own JD’s Joint studios in Mount Juliet with engineer Rob Daniels. “People pay big money for software programs for keyboards,” Clayton said, explaining why the album’s producer hired him to play acoustic string instruments instead of using orchestral sounds on keyboards. “But keyboard sounds aren’t the same as having the real instrument, a lot of them sound fake. That’s what we do a lot of at my studio, add real instruments to basic tracks for people, all the way up to a 16-piece orchestra, which is what we did for Donny.”
“His producer sent me the tracks,” Clayton continued, “and had kind of laid out what they wanted for the majority of the song, like a guide. I went through what he had done on keyboards and then played the parts on cellos, violas and violins. Then there’s like a breakdown section about three-quarters of the way through the song where it was left open for me to do what I wanted, so that section is me putting in whatever I wanted to do.”
Although Osmond is a generation older than Clayton and may not be what’s happening in today’s Nashville, Clayton was pretty familiar with his history. “My parents were singers,” he said, “they had their own lounge show, and they got a lot of Donny and Marie requests when Donny and Marie had their television show. That show was a regular occurrence in my house in the late ‘90s. So I was kind of familiar with him already. Donny’s one of those people who appeals to a wide range of listeners. You either like him or you don’t.”
The moving Start Again title track features Osmond singing what is almost a current generic country melody, but with a wisely-done arrangement that makes it more of a pop/AC tune suitable for several audiences. “I think the producer has it in a really gray area, kind of like the Disney pop thing,” Clayton said. “It appeals to a wide variety of people – it’s not twangy, it’s not a straight-on rock song, it’s straight up the middle, and it’s a very inspirational song. If you listen to the lyrics and you don’t like it, you need to re-examine yourself. After the past 18 months, most of the people in the entertainment industry are having to start over again. We can all relate to it.”
Missouri native Clayton is currently back on stage as a member of Tanya Tucker’s tour band, and he may even run into Osmond in Vegas when Tucker and her band play there this winter. He’s also a co-writer of Candi Carpenter’s recent single, “Dirt Around the Tree,” which features the song’s producer Brandi Carlile. You can keep up with his adventures at jakeclayton.com.