I’m not sure what I expected from Jake Clemons’ new EP Embracing Light – for some reason jazz came to mind, or maybe Booker T-style pop instrumentals. Instead what Clemons delivers is an old-school rocker, complete with terrific arrangements, excellent instrumentation and a lyrical message of hope that would do his current boss, er, Boss, proud.
Clemons clearly draws from his E Street Band experience here, and the result is a rich, large, multifaceted sound that’s evident right from the get-go — the EP kicks off with a bluesy piano intro, before the horns and guitar kick in on the immediately catchy “Song for Hope.” But the overall sound probably owes less to Springsteen and his classic rock brethren than it does certain rock-reared descendants like the Counting Crows or the Wallflowers. It’s a robust rock vibe that’s sounds as fully formed as it is radio friendly.
As for the vocals, Jake’s reedy voice may lack his Uncle Clarence’s baritone charm, but it’s probably more versatile — and serves his songs’ messages of hope and endurance well, particularly on straight-ahead rock tracks like “You Must Be Crazy” and “Without.” He stretches a little beyond his comfort zone for lilting album closer “Carry Me Through,” but you can’t question his sincerity, and his supple sax at the song’s end makes up for any vocal stumbles. It’s probably not surprising that Clemons’ horn work, from soulful to subtle, elevates the whole affair.
Clemons’ vocals are more successful on the title track, a slow-builder with an indie undercurrent that stays more comfortably in his range and brings together the EP’s up-from-the-ashes ethos. “I was wrong … for not always fighting for what’s right,” Clemons admonishes his younger self, before declaring that we should “brave the day with hope, embracing light.” It’s typical of the EP’s lyrics, which seem bent on hard-earned redemption.
Embracing Light shows that Jake Clemons can do a lot more than blow sax — but beyond that, it establishes him as a solo artist brimming with potential who’s likely to be reckoned with further on up the road. In between Springsteen tours, that is.
For more on Embracing Light, visit jakeclemons.com. For a great recent interview with Jake, visit Burgers and Bruce.