Music

Les Claypool's Duo de Twang: Four Foot Shack

Les Claypool goes stripped-down and acoustic with an interesting array of covers and revised versions of Primus and his solo songs.


Les Claypool's Duo de Twang

Four Foot Shack

Label: ATO
US Release Date: 2014-02-04
UK Release Date: 2014-02-10
Amazon
iTunes

Les Claypool is a busy man. Besides keeping Primus going for more than 25 years, he’s dabbled in all sorts of side projects, solo work, and guest appearances. Four Foot Shack can’t exactly be considered a departure for the bassist; he’s done scattered twangy acoustic material in the past. But it is the first time he has done an entire album in this fashion.

As the name “Duo de Twang” implies, this record is just Claypool and guitarist Bryan Kehoe playing songs together. Mostly, Claypool is on acoustic dobro bass and Kehoe plays an acoustic guitar, though not exclusively. Oh, and there’s a foot pedal tambourine to keep the beat. Besides the slight, 42-second opener “Four Foot Shack”, the album is entirely made up of previously recorded songs, with Claypool and Kehoe playing Claypool tracks and a handful of covers.

The album essentially begins and ends with Primus songs, “Wynonna’s Big Brown Beaver” and “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver”, respectively. It’s no coincidence that those are the band’s two most famous songs; a clear enticement for Primus fans who don’t usually bother with Claypool’s other material to pick up the album. But those are also the two most radically reworked originals on Four Foot Shack. “Wynonna” strips the song down to what amounts to a barebones bassline (at least in Claypool’s terms) and a shadow of the original guitar riff. Claypool doesn’t mess with the vocals much, so the song is familiar-sounding despite the rearrangement. “Jerry”, on the other hand, ditches nearly all of the song’s original music. Besides retaining the fast tempo and key, the song is so different as to be unrecognizable until Claypool starts the lyrics 40 seconds in. It stays that way throughout the song, which makes it an interesting experiment that fails to retain nearly any of the original’s best bits.

Less radical are the various songs from Claypool’s solo albums that appear on the record. Freed from the oddball instrumentation of Of Fungi and Foe, “Red State Girl” and “Booneville Stomp” are more accessible and less self-consciously weird here. The former’s lyrics are still too obvious to qualify as clever satire, but its dark groove is strong. The latter gives Kehoe a chance to experiment with weird guitar sounds while Claypool lays down another strong bassline, and it is one of the few times where the duo really pushes the tempo. “Buzzards of Greenhill” and “D’s Diner” are less successful, as they suffer from repetitive choruses, just like in their original incarnations on the Purple Onion album.

“Rumble of the Diesel” was originally recorded as a full-bodied funk tune with distorted bass, steel percussion sounds, and saxophone and marimba solos, and lasted seven minutes. The Four Foot Shack version of the song is half as long and effectively highlights the track’s sturdy songwriting. It also opens with an amusing bit of audience banter from a concert in Seattle where Claypool jokingly accuses the crowd of “not knowing much about fishing” and receives lusty boos for his trouble.

Then there are the covers. The Duo’s takes on The Bee Gees “Stayin’ Alive” and Alice in Chains’ “Man in the Box” are intentionally comedic versions that are amusing once or twice but don’t have a lot of staying power. In particular, Claypool’s replacement of “Stayin’ Alive”’s falsetto “Ah ah ah ah / Stayin’ alive” hook with a weird grunting “Heeawo heeawo heeawo” thing wears out its welcome before the end of the song. “Man in the Box” fares a bit better because of Claypool and Kehoe’s vocal commitment to the song’s wordless wailing. Also, they recast the song into a rolling “Rawhide”-style cowboy song, complete with whip cracks. Even better are the songs that the pair takes a bit more seriously. Claypool has done Jerry Reed’s inherently silly “Amos Moses” in the past, and it sounds really good here as well. In the same vein is the duo’s relatively straight cover of Johnny Horton’s “Battle of New Orleans”, which is just as fun as the original. The Ventures’ classic surf tune “Pipeline” is done in a surprisingly low key style, and it’s the rare moment where Claypool lets Kehoe take the spotlight.

The most interesting cover choice may be the obscure Tom Connors song “The Bridge Came Tumblin’ Down”. Connors, a Canadian, is probably best known in certain areas of the United States for his classic “The Hockey Song”, but this particular song about the collapse of an under-construction bridge in Vancouver in 1958 is a well-told story of an event that is largely unknown these days. Claypool and Kehoe play the song very well, and its jaunty style is a nice counterpoint to the sad lyrics.

Like a lot of the material Claypool has released under his own name, Four Foot Shack is a mixed bag. But this time around the positives outweigh the negatives by quite a bit, and the album’s relaxed vibe is a nice change for Claypool. Somehow, the “two dudes playing on a back porch” style of this project finds a middle ground between the intensity of Claypool’s Primus material and his often meandering, sometimes boring jam band-oriented solo material.

7
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Film

Nazis, Nostalgia, and Critique in Taika Waititi's 'Jojo Rabbit'

Arriving amidst the exhaustion of the past (21st century cultural stagnation), Waititi locates a new potential object for the nostalgic gaze with Jojo Rabbit: unpleasant and traumatic events themselves.

Television

Why I Did Not Watch 'Hamilton' on Disney+

Just as Disney's Frozen appeared to deliver a message of 21st century girl power, Hamilton hypnotizes audiences with its rhyming hymn to American exceptionalism.

Music

LA Popsters Paper Jackets Deliver a Message We Should Embrace (premiere + interview)

Two days before releasing their second album, LA-based pop-rock sextet Paper Jackets present a seemingly prescient music video that finds a way to ease your pain during these hard times.

Books

'Dancing After TEN' Graphic Memoir Will Move You

Art dances with loss in the moving double-memoir by comics artists Vivian Chong and Georgia Webber, Dancing After TEN.

Music

Punk Rock's WiiRMZ Rage at the Dying of the Light on 'Faster Cheaper'

The eight songs on WiiRMZ's Faster Cheaper are like a good sock to the jaw, bone-rattling, and disorienting in their potency.

Music

Chris Stamey Paints in "A Brand-New Shade of Blue" (premiere + interview)

Chris Stamey adds more new songs for the 20th century with his latest album, finished while he was in quarantine. The material comes from an especially prolific 2019. "It's like flying a kite and also being the kite. It's a euphoric time," he says.

Music

Willie Nelson Surveys His World on 'First Rose of Spring'

Country legend Willie Nelson employs his experience on a strong set of songs to take a wide look around him.

Music

Gábor Lázár Is in Something of a Holding Pattern on 'Source'

Experimental electronic artist Gábor Lázár spins his wheels with a new album that's intermittently exciting but often lacking in variety.

Music

Margo Price Is Rumored to Be the New Stevie Nicks

Margo Price was marketed as country rock because of her rural roots. But she was always more rock than country, as one can hear on That's How Rumors Get Started.

Music

DMA'S Discuss Their Dancier New Album 'The Glow'

DMA'S lead-singer, Tommy O'Dell, discusses the band's new album The Glow, and talks about the dancier direction in their latest music.

Music

The Bacon Brothers Deliver Solemn Statement With "Corona Tune" (premiere + interview)

Written and recorded during the 2020 quarantine, "Corona Tune" exemplifies the Bacon Brothers' ability to speak to the gravity of the present moment.

Music

Garage Rockers the Bobby Lees Pay Tribute to "Wendy" (premiere)

The Bobby Lees' "Wendy" is a simmering slice of riot 'n' roll that could have come from the garage or the gutter but brims with punk attitude.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.