Spotlight: Les Claypool’s Duo De Twang

Published Feb 7, 2014 at 06:56AM

“FOUR FOOT SHACK”

ATO Records

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.

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.

— Chris Conaton, PopMatters