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Andy Clifton grapples with mortality on new album 

click to enlarge Back on track: Local singer-songwriter Andy Clifton is returning to the spotlight with new shows and a forthcoming album called Making Stops Along the Way. - TODD RYAN
  • Todd Ryan
  • Back on track: Local singer-songwriter Andy Clifton is returning to the spotlight with new shows and a forthcoming album called Making Stops Along the Way.
Plenty of musicians will get excited when talking about their songs, bands and ideas, but when local singer-songwriter Andy Clifton talks about music, he speaks with an almost breathless elation.

His boundless energy is clearly necessary. Clifton played over 50 shows in 2017 and is coming off “his busiest July ever,” having released six LPs since 2014. Even his band name Andy Clifton & Company — which represents a collective of musicians he plays with in different configurations — seems to exemplify his hard-working, tenacious and heartfelt approach to the music business.

It’s a good thing, too, as last year brought Clifton more than his fair share of adversity. In mid-November, Clifton suffered a traumatic head injury, hitting the back of his head on a pole and bruising the hippocampus region of his brain.

“I knocked myself to a point where I couldn’t make any new memories for a while,” explains Clifton, who’s also an Indy advertising rep. “I didn’t realize that I was hurt and didn’t get the concussion protocol I should have gotten, so I ended up with something called post-concussion syndrome. I don’t remember Christmas or New Year’s — that kind of stuff. I know it happened, but I don’t quite remember it. I have a lot of shadows of memories and emotions, but I don’t have the exact handle.”

As if that weren’t enough, Clifton was also going through a divorce at the time, and the injury and its aftereffects were serious enough to question not only whether he could continue to play music, but whether he would come out the other side with his personality intact. After spending months dealing with the prescription of “lying in a dark room,” Clifton’s frequent bass player and collaborator Randy Block took Clifton in and took care of him.

“He saved me,” says Clifton. “Through generosity, love, friendship and family, I was able to get through.”

Even before the injury that left him in a state of precarity, Clifton was grappling with issues of mortality with his latest album, Making Stops Along the Way. The 12-track LP is a collection of rootsy songs played with a sophisticated touch, led by Clifton’s warm voice and knotty acoustic guitar grooves and supplemented by mandolin work from Grass It Up’s David Jeffrey, a frequent Company member.
“I’m always writing something, a tune or a poem; it’s just something that I work at every day,” says Clifton. “That results in a large collection of songs that remain unreleased.”

Clifton was also compelled to step outside his comfort zone and give his raw recordings another look upon the passing of one of his musical heroes, The Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie.

“He was such a huge influence on me, both in my songwriting and how I think about songwriting, in general.” says Clifton. “So I was really affected by his passing — more than I was prepared for. [The album] was an attempt to process that, and let go of some art that I wasn’t necessarily planning on letting anyone hear. In my own way, I wanted to say ‘thanks, Gordie,’ and also let go of some of that self-judgment.”

As Clifton started to heal in early March, he “got back to work and got back to life,” a process that found him re-learning to play guitar. With help from Company guitarist KJ Braithwaite, Clifton resumed playing gigs after a few rehearsals, and even approached his instrument in new ways — though he certainly doesn’t advocate injuring your brain to become a better guitarist.

“When I first tried to play again, I couldn’t. The second time, I had the thoughts, but my hands couldn’t do anything. But, finally, it was a wonderful changeover where I went from totally unable to absolutely able, and I started to see the guitar open up a little bit. Everything was new again during this time. The light from the sky was fierce, sunsets were blistering colors, and when I played the guitar, it was like, there’s all this new stuff here!”

Ultimately, the thing that now radiates the most from Clifton is gratitude — toward his “world-class” bandmates, of whom he speaks with utmost reverence — and toward the music scene in Colorado Springs. You can catch him playing solo Aug. 10 at Prime 25, and with his full band on Aug 17 at 20 Mile Tap House in Parker.

“I’ve had a lot of opportunity here, more than I would have had in, say, Nashville or L.A.,” says Clifton. “If I’d had five minutes of fame in one of those places, that would have been it. Here, I’ve been able to cultivate something special. The I-25 corridor gave me this opportunity for all those years, and continues to give me new opportunities. It keeps building a world of music and happiness around me, and it was just that which allowed me to bounce back. After 25 years, I just feel a lot of gratitude.”

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