Playing Piano Sparks Writing Surge for Clinton Houseman

by Ed Peaco

Clinton Houseman’s third album in his Krejad series of solo projects presents a diverse dozen of songs written with different materials that maintain a consistent impression.

The lead instrument changes from one song to another, or within a song — guitar, mandolin, acoustic piano and synth — but Clinton’s reassuring tone of voice brings you in.

He’s released the album, Latchkey, on Friday, May 1 at his Bandcamp page In addition, the album will be available on major streaming platforms, including Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music, Google Music, YouTube (but expect delays due to Covid-19, Clinton said).

Piano unblocks Clinton

Back in 2016-17, Clinton had writer’s block; nothing he tried worked. They seemed like scraps, he said. A year to two later, his parents sent him the piano that he learned on as a kid.

Cover for Latchkey: painting by Samantha Hubler, cover design by Ryan Wallace

“When I had free time, I would play a song that I knew, well-known songs, to pass time and get my chops back up. Then, naturally, it went from there, so I would play, like, a Paul McCartney song and play it straight. Then I would try to make my own arrangement from something guitar based.”

Then he worked on different kinds of songs.
“Next thing I knew, I was playing something — a chord progression that I came up with on the spot, and then, oh, it’s happening. I’m writing music again: something that feels right but it feels new at the same time,” he said. This breakthrough enabled him to make new inroads with the guitar, bring his “scraps” into a new light, and write new songs.

Four of the songs are centered on the piano, and several of the songs benefit from dynamics. Houseman plays all the instruments on the album, except for Ryan Dunn (saxophone), Alisha Thomas (violin) and Seth Randolph (congas). All of this variety should maintain listeners.
Among the piano pieces, “The Woman from Last Night’s Nightmare” is the most ambitious, with dynamics of soft and loud, and piano notes diminishing quickly while Ryan plays long tones. “The Dream” is bathed in Clinton’s voice, with a few bars of guitar. On “Letters to Nobody,” a few dissonant notes pop up, emphasizing the mood. “Soul Trader” presents several kinds of textures and numerous tracks of Clinton’s voice.

More songs

Make sure to listen more than once to “Trellis.” Clinton opens with an acoustic guitar and moves to mandolin for a fiery passage, then violin and synth.

The opening of “Nervous Energy,” for folks of a certain age, will enjoy the burning, hard hitting, repetitive passages, much like the Mahavishnu Orchestra, circa 1970. Moreover, this song and its title are well-suited for this era.
“Growing Apart” has several transitions, some wordless vocal and an uplifting beat.

The title song, “Latchkey,” creates a mood of nostalgia:
I remember that house in the valley
On the edge of the woods at the end of the alley
A faded blue: center of the universe
…Comin’ home to an empty house in the hollow

I wasn’t alone but it rarely felt so
There I planted a garden of black clouds
That bloomed through my life

(Headline Portrait of Clinton Houseman. Photo credit: Whitney Houseman)

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