Tune: Lazy Bones from Clamtones B.C.

Clamtones B.C.

Review by:  Paul Kerr (Americana UK Reviews)

 

Double helping of 70’s songwriter with Holy Modal Rounder
connections. When Robert Christgau, (Dean of American Rock Critics ©), brought out his list of his favourite albums of the seventies there was a weird anomaly. Nestling amidst the Clash, Television and Neil Young there was, at number 10, an album called "Have Moicy", by Michael Hurley, the Unholy Modal Rounders and Jeffrey Frederick & the Clamtones.
Connoisseurs have long recognised the special qualities and uniqueness (“ a cute, fatalistic musical head comik about the pleasures, sorrows, and mundane irritations of bohemian life ” Christgau) of this album. Two of the participants (Michael Hurley and Peter Stampfel) have continued to make music and plow that furrow of left field cultdom. The third member of this unholy trinity, Frederick, has failed to achieve even the status of cultdom. Due in part to his untimely death in 1997 and the lack of any recordings (apart from the album, “Spiders in the Moonlight”, 1977, currently unavailable) he has often been seen as a footnote to the main Rounders/Hurley story. This is unfair as despite his fairly relaxed attitude to various intoxicants he maintained a strong band of musicians who played throughout the North West of America in the seventies and eighties.  Over the past two years his widow has been selectively releasing archived material, in the main live recordings, that demonstrate his talent and bonhomie. This, the most recent release, is a two CD set of a Canadian radio broadcast from 1976 and is the best of the released material so far, both in terms of sound quality and song selection.  Leading a six piece band and with Jill Gross on additional vocals, the music falls into that mid seventies loose limbed country groove as exemplified by the likes of the New Riders of the Purple Sage, The Ozark Mountain Daredevils, Dan Hicks and Doug Sahm with several of the tracks stretching

over six or seven minutes. The song selection includes several from the Have Moicy album, some Hurley tunes and Frederick’s own compositions. The band (guitar, bass, sax and
other wind instruments, mandolin, fiddle, piano and drums) weave in and out, sometimes in an endearingly haphazard way (although the piano, by Richard Tyler, is generally spot on). But once they lock into a tune ("Robbin’ Banks","Jackknife", for example) you can sense the enjoyment they get from making this music. At times they are mildly reminiscent of mid seventies Grateful Dead Trucking type boogies. There is a great segue between the "Slurf Song" and "Robbin’ Banks", two of the forementioned Have Moicy tunes. Frederick’s vocals are warm, easy and relaxed, drawling at times with an attractive habit of half spoken asides and on occasion achieving a kind of spaced out croon. There is humour here of a pre PC type on several songs, “Paraplegic Waltz” for example, but Frederick could write affecting songs too. On “Honolulu” in particular the band are very sympathetic to his words with violin and sax prominent as he sings of becoming a migrating bird fleeing cold climes to an island paradise.  Another highlight is “What Made My Hamburger Disappear” where the Zen like question of the hamburger is never answered but the band coil around the song like an anaconda. The album ends with a great rendition of “Portland Waters”, a song by Hurley pertaining to this bands’ normal stomping ground. There are some minor quibbles over the sound, the guitar seems clipped some of the time but for a recording of this vintage overall it is better than expected. However, for any old hippies out there or folk interested in the likes of Hicks or mellow grooved songs that, as Christgau said, describe that bohemian moment in the seventies, I can recommend this album. Well packaged for an independent release, with great liner notes, buy this and wait for the anticipated release of "Spiders", Frederick's sole official release.
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