In his cover of the iconic “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked,” country-rock singer/songwriter Jake Clayton takes searing slides, blistering beats and uncompromisingly heavy electric fretwork and combines them into a true melting pot of melodicism. Cage The Elephant’s version of this track is undeniably a tough number to beat, but instead of trying to overtake the status of the original with his own work, Clayton develops his own concept surrounding the arrangement and execution of this song. His performance is razor sharp from the get-go, but he doesn’t waste any time trying to dazzle us with the sort of bells and whistles that his peers would employ in an endeavor like this one. The main focus here is the feverish guitar play; the lyrics are used to frame the riff in the chorus instead of the other way around, and the vocal through which they’re communicated is angsty and reminiscent of the Pixies in their prime. Fusing together all of the best features in country-blues and the hardest of hard rock, Jake Clayton turns in a real classic of his own in this white-hot spring single.
There’s a lot of emphasis on the vocal in this mix, but I think it was required to demonstrate the sonic depth of the recording. A lot of artists wouldn’t have thought to put as much stock in the verses simply because of the options presented by the string arrangement up front, but I really like that Clayton decided to go with the setup he did here. “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” never feels like a cover song because of the original, unforced passion that he puts into his performance, and moreover, the precision with which he strikes. The bass is almost as powerful in the mix as the guitar parts are, but this doesn’t yield any muddiness in the big picture; by using the low-end tones to straddle the larger rhythm created by the drums, Clayton unleashes a harmonic hurricane that doesn’t become assaultive until there’s nothing we can do to stop it. He thought this single out, and that’s obvious even from afar.
Rock rebellion gets a dose of countrified grit in Jake Clayton’s “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked,” which I would deem one of the best singles he’s released since coming onto the scene almost a decade ago. Despite his veteran status, I think it’s more than clear that this is a singer and songwriter still coming into his own (which is a good thing in my book). He’s got so many different angles to his sound, and although multidimensionality has become a standard requirement among millennial audiences in the last five years or so, his brand of bucolic rock is a standout nonetheless. Clayton doesn’t have much road left between his moniker and the bright lights of primetime exposure, and if “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” can secure as much of an audience as his original content has, it could be the track to break him out of the underground once and for all.
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