Photos courtesy of Cletus Got Shot
CLETUS GOT SHOT –
WORKING SONGS FOR THE DRINKING MAN
2012 – Self Released
The album title is not the jokey clever wordplay that it looks. It is actually an appropriate description of many of the fourteen songs to be found on this recording. In many ways it is a ‘protest’ album but whilst it kicks against politicians, money men and much of society in general it‘s only real conclusion is that the solutions we seek are in our own hands. The problem with the subject matter contained on this album is that most if not all of us know the score (or at least think we do), so in many ways it is just a retreading of old news, although it is aimed at and does have relevance to modern day society and it’s problems. Credit has to be given for taking on these subjects but the themes can start to get monotonous and that is exactly what happens on this album. Fortunately this gifted and quite original band can get away with it, at least up to a point, simply because of their slightly unusual instrumentation, some excellent ‘gang’harmonies and leader, Adam Cox’s straining edgy vocals and songwriting prowess. There is also the fact that there is quite a range of tempos and arrangements and the rare occurrence of steel guitar also helps to give these rallying calls for the downtrodden a lift.
Whilst their previous album, the brilliant ‘Unamerican,’ also had a strong protest aspect it seemed somehow to be a little more ‘musical’ and covered a broader canvas of subjects relating to the
downtrodden, with subject matter ranging over the last century or more and covered by some fascinating stories, whereas this seems to cover a much narrower timespan, has a little less musicality and tends to if not exactly repeat itself, to at least become a little tiring. I suppose that with many albums that highlight some of society’s woe’s there is a danger that they will simply come across as protesting for the sake of protest whilst actually offering no solutions. No matter how hare brained a
writer thinks his solutions may be regarded, it at least shows he has thought it out. Again, this album barely touches on solutions other than that they are in our hands, although it does certainly highlight many of the problems. Despite all that, the sheer talent of the band carries the album and ensures it is well worth listening to, although certainly not their best recording.
The line up is the same as on their previous pair of albums, Adam Cox on guitar, vocals and most song writing, Nathan Miller plays mandolin and vocals with Mark Landry on his now famous ‘gas tank bass’and vocals! The instrumentation is limited but thanks to their expertise and one or two occasional additions it comes across as being quite varied. The playing can be sensitive on the slower songs and full of power and drive when needed, with the bass often having a higher profile than on many other albums and the mandolin frequently taking the lead.
Whilst much of the above may be seen as a criticism, the songs are brilliantly written but because they are seemingly not specific of time and place, there is not really anything to engender a
feeling of sympathy for the self that is telling the story. And yet, each and every set of lyrics has an individual power, despite when putting the songs together the whole loses much of it’s impact because of the basic themes being the same. There are a couple of exceptions to the general theme with Singin’ Just the Same, being more specific with it’s excellent tale of an itinerant musician and the problems faced, such as debt and the law and Justice is my Name is the story of a man behind bars that knows that even when freedom comes he will not really be free. Mountain
Top is a really good, almost anthemic song that talks about the contradictions in life with the usual
excellent instrumentation and with it’s tremendous mass harmonies on the chorus almost giving it the feel of an outtake from ‘Mermaid Avenue,’ although the lead vocal could not be mistaken for Tweedy or Bragg! What Would You Say may be the best and most literate protest song on the album
with it’s highlighting of various areas of society, but again preaching that the solution is not with politicians but with the man in the street.
Maybe the problem with this album is that it is just a little too ‘preachy,’ but sight should not be lost of the fact that ‘Cletus Got Shot’ are one of the best and most original bands around at the
moment and much of this recording is thought provoking. Overall, an album that is not as strong as the sum of it’s parts, but some of those parts are excellent!