CSO and Jay Clifford shine together 

Jay Rules

Uh-oh, another non-highbrow review from your trusty classical geek (see "Dukin' It Out," last issue). But part of my mission is to keep you current on the Charleston Symphony's efforts to bring orchestral music to a wider audience

And so I joined a jubilant full house at the Charleston Music Hall last Thursday for the CSO's latest Out of the Box event, showcasing the wide-ranging talents of local rock hero Jay Clifford, formerly of Jump, Little Children.

While I'm no real rock fan, I make an exception for Clifford. I heard him with the CSO a few years back, when — along with Jump — they packed the Gaillard shortly before the band dissolved. The man owns one of rock's supreme voices: a silky-smooth, soulful tenor that never sounds forced or ugly. He can belt it out at need (even unmiked), but there's none of that gravelly bellowing that often passes for pop singing.

And he gives you as refined and totally original a product as you can find in his genre: tender, poetic lyrics; gorgeous melodies; and sophisticated harmonies. He's a true musician's musician, there for whatever tunes float your boat. Backing Clifford up was a mini-orchestra of around 30 CSO musicians: selected strings and brass with timpani. With him up front was his terrific current combo: Josh Kaler on guitars, Michael Flynn on keyboard, Benji Lee on drums, and Jonathan Gray on bass.

Clifford crafted his own artful orchestral arrangements, making for lush sonic foundations that the combo fit right into like a comfy shoe — with his incredible voice floating over it all. He gave the orchestra ample chance to shine in classy little interludes of their own. The fare included Jump-era faves and other Clifford classics — like "Vertigo," "All the Way to Mexico," "Cathedrals," and "Say Good Night." Some of the newer numbers were "Yesterday's Move," "Driving Blind," and "Know When to Walk Away."

Valentine's Day got its due, too — and not just from the touching love-ballads on the menu. Brent Price — a fab young fiddler from the CSO's strings section — appeared up front after intermission along with his girlfriend Katherine Bailey. After a lengthy (but heartfelt) preamble, he proposed to her, right there, on bended knee (sigh). Jay served as ringbearer before serenading the cloud-nine couple.

Romance lives.

I can hardly wait 'til the CSO's next Out of the Box adventure: their annual silent film contest on April 10. You can always count on this innovative series to explore cool new horizons for symphonic sound.

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