Track Premiere: Damn Shame by J.M. Clifford

Tomorrow (April 23) is the release date for Damn Shame, the debut single from New York bluegrass singer and songwriter, J.M. Clifford, on Brooklyn Basement Records. So today we are pleased to offer our readers a pre0release taste with a track premiere of one of the songs.

Those of us fortunate enough to live in the bluegrass heartland can forget how the music has an almost evangelical mission in other parts of the country, and the world. Clifford discovered and fell in love with the grass through a chance encounter. He was working as a music teacher at an inner city elementary school, thoroughly enmeshed in the city, when he happened upon Sunny’s Bar in Red Hook, the home of Brooklyn’s bluegrass community..

“I wandered into the back room of this old bar on a Saturday night, and was blown away by the incredible scene there. The line between the audience and the performers blurred into one messy, glorious wash of sound.”

It’s almost always live bluegrass that gets you that first time, and it doesn’t really matter whether it’s in a Kentucky field or a New York City saloon.

Clifford began to consume every bluegrass recording he could find, studying the music of Norman Blake, Bill Monroe, and The Stanley Brothers, and soon he was hosting jams of his own. With his education background, he soon found himself teaching young pickers how to cut the grass at The Brooklyn Conservatory of Music. He had the bug.

New York was hit hard during the COVID-19 shutdown last year, and while quarantined in his apartment, J.M. decided to write music for a record. Just going through a divorce, and reeling from the death of his mom, songwriting proved to be therapeutic. This first single, Damn Shame, allowed him to process the pain of his marriage dissolving, which says can take a while.

“When a relationship ends, after you’ve gone through all the stages of grief, I think it’s normal to take a longer view and just wonder how the hell that person you used to know so well is doing.”

And he thanks his co-producers, Ron Pope and Nicole Cosme, for helping him find the groove for Damn Shame, which he was ready to abandon.

“This one almost didn’t make the record. It was feeling kind of weighed down and stodgy. We tried speeding things up about 10%, and all of a sudden things started to wake up. Then we turned the gas on, sped it up about 10% more, and the tune was really cooking. I love what the band brought to this one. They just crushed it. Gabe Terraciano on the fiddle. Good grief.

Lyrically my goal was to make a few lines tell as compelling a narrative, and paint as vivid a picture as possible. This is one of the first tunes I finished for the new record. It’s a really personal song and it kind of set the precedent for many of the songs that followed.”

It did turn out quite well. Have a listen below.

Damn Shame will be part of Clifford’s upcoming album, On A Saturday Night, due in August. Pre-orders will be offered later this summer. The single will be available on April 23 wherever you stream or download music online.

Can’t wait to hear more from this talented writer. There’s always room for a new voice in bluegrass music.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.