Ambitious in scope yet intimately confiding, Clutching At Straws is a wide-angle glimpse into both the light and the shadow of human attachments.
Spurred by divorce and all the attendant fallout – Clutching At Straws traverses themes from love to obsession, sensuality to despair, liberation to claustrophobia, elation to desperation. Taken as a whole, the album plays akin to a movie soundtrack, with a broad sweep of styles ranging from folk to glam rock, and lyrical proclivities lending nod to Dylan-esque wordplay on the one hand and the colorful theatrics of Stephen Sondheim on the other.
Jon James Is Dead is the moniker for Minneapolis singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist J.J. Benson. Clutching At Straws pays nod to a number of genres while remaining cohesive by virtue of Benson’s voice and accomplished guitar & piano work. Whereas Benson’s past ventures have been compared to everyone from Ryan Adams to Todd Rundgren, the new album is noticeably more intimate and immediate.
“All these songs essentially began as bedroom songs,” says Benson. “I’d play them quietly in my room, late at night. I wanted to try and retain that feel as we moved to recording them. Many of them began as just voice and acoustic guitar, as one-off performances. And some of those songs, like Sad Solo Violin and Haberdashery Soul remained strictly that, with only the most minimal embellishments. Other songs, we fleshed out with larger arrangements, like Heat – which is akin to ‘70s Philly Soul – or Ms. Skittish, which I think has a bit of a T. Rex feel to it. Then, there are other departures; like the track #violetmelvina, which began with a Johnny Marr-like guitar progression – but I ended up liking the lushness of the chords so much I wanted to move it over to piano and see what that sounded like. In the end, the entire track is merely piano and one solo vocal. It’s the first time I’ve tried something like that and I was really pleased with the result.”