Les Claypool is a national treasure.
There, I said it. Itâ€™s a sentiment thatâ€™s been on the tip of everyoneâ€™s tongue and on the rictus of their lips since Claypool, definition of bassist extraordinaire, and his Primus cohorts helped define â€œalternativeâ€ music in the early- to mid-â€˜90s with records such as Sailing The Seas of Cheese and Pork Soda. And itâ€™s a sentiment thatâ€™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 â€“ 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” â€“ but thatâ€™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 â€“ undistilled like moonshine, sure, sure, but still as potent and spirited â€“ and recognizable — as anything off Frizzle Fry or Suck On This.
And then thereâ€™s that little nagging gesture of the track listing. Most of the material is covers, either of other musicians (Tom Connorsâ€™ â€œThe Bridge Came Tumblinâ€™ Down,â€ Alice In Chainsâ€™ â€œMan In The Box,â€ The Bee Geesâ€™ â€œStayinâ€™ Alive,â€ and so on) and of Claypool staples like â€œWynonaâ€™s Big Brown Beaverâ€ or the always-incredible â€œJerry Was A Race Car Driver.â€ Yes, you get the humorous, vibrant and NEW tune â€œRed State Girl,â€ but you also get an unnecessary take on The Venturesâ€™ surf-rock classic â€œPipeline.â€ (And, maybe itâ€™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 â€œBoonville Stompâ€ â€“ a Claypool original â€“ is addictive, and the funky head trip of â€œHendershot,â€ previously a surf nugget on one of Claypoolâ€™s â€œsoloâ€ records, is a gem, too. Have at â€˜em, boys!
Now, again, to be accurate, the record is â€œpercussion-less,â€ in the sense that there is no drummer, no provider of beats, no sampled backbone. But Claypool lays into that bass dobro â€“ one wonders if he writes entire records and maps out entire projects based solely on the tools at hand â€“ and provides a kind of rhythm that is not only effective but apropos, given the front-porch histories heâ€™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 â€œThe Devil Went Down To Georgiaâ€ will devour it, indeed. And so will anybody whoâ€™s ever crawled the Internet searching to complete their Claypool diorama with a recording of the pre-Primus Sausage demo. Maybe thatâ€™s just it. Claypool isnâ€™t playing for the charts â€“ heâ€™s playing for people whoâ€™ve been hooked on his rubbery bass jelly since they were in middle school, for fans, for friends. Itâ€™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, itâ€™ll surely enter the lexicon of â€“ Iâ€™m saying it again, Wikipedia â€“ this national treasure.