Les Claypool is a national treasure.
There, I said it. It’s a sentiment that’s been on the tip of everyone’s tongue and on the rictus of their lips since Claypool, definition of bassist extraordinaire, and his Primus cohorts helped define ”alternative” music in the early- to mid-90s with records such as Sailing The Seas of Cheese and Pork Soda. And it’s a sentiment that’s been publicly fermenting throughout Sausage outings, Woodstock appearances, all of those Frog Brigade shows and records, his surfacings with the ever-eternal Tom Waits and, now, with his fervent — and percussion-less – declarations of country-western funk on the first recording by his Duo De Twang, Four Foot Shack.
The record, all 15 tracks of it, might be “new” — but that’s only in the record release date sense of that word. The sound that Claypool, guitarist Bryan Kehoe and sometimes-collaborator Wylie Woods cultivate is pure Claypool — undistilled like moonshine, sure, sure, but still as potent and spirited — and recognizable — as anything off Frizzle Fry or Suck On This.
And then there’s that little nagging gesture of the track listing. Most of the material is covers, either of other musicians (Tom Connors’ ”The Bridge Came Tumblin’ Down,” Alice In Chains’ ”Man In The Box,” The Bee Gees’ ”Stayin’ Alive,” and so on) and of Claypool staples like ”Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver” or the always-incredible ”Jerry Was A Race Car Driver.” Yes, you get the humorous, vibrant and NEW tune ”Red State Girl,” but you also get an unnecessary take on The Ventures’ surf-rock classic ”Pipeline.” (And, maybe it’s just me, but I could have done without a twangy take on anything the Gibbses touched with a ten-foot pole, no sexual connotations intended.)
Then again, even if most of this material is rehashed, Claypool makes it sound vital and unmistakably cool. The bassy dirge of ”Boonville Stomp” — a Claypool original — is addictive, and the funky head trip of ”Hendershot,” previously a surf nugget on one of Claypool’s ”solo” records, is a gem, too. Have at em, boys!
Now, again, to be accurate, the record is ”percussion-less,” in the sense that there is no drummer, no provider of beats, no sampled backbone. But Claypool lays into that bass dobro — one wonders if he writes entire records and maps out entire projects based solely on the tools at hand — and provides a kind of rhythm that is not only effective but apropos, given the front-porch histories he’s mining here. In short: it works. And then some.
So, what to make of the latest appearance of the seemingly indefatigable Claypool? Well, Primus fans who loved its why-the-hell-is-this-a-B-side? sapphire ”The Devil Went Down To Georgia” will devour it, indeed. And so will anybody who’s ever crawled the Internet searching to complete their Claypool diorama with a recording of the pre-Primus Sausage demo. Maybe that’s just it. Claypool isn’t playing for the charts — he’s playing for people who’ve been hooked on his rubbery bass jelly since they were in middle school, for fans, for friends. It’s a great gig if you can score it. Claypool clearly has and, while, of course, there are B and B+ moments on this otherwise A disc, it’ll surely enter the lexicon of — I’m saying it again, Wikipedia — this national treasure.