By all means, I can’t justify my love of country. I’m Mexican, so the closest decent thing we’ve got to country on the radio are John Denver songs and maybe a few Johnny Cash songs. Heck, you might find a few people, all of them over thirty, who know Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, but that’s as far as it goes.
No, corridos don’t count. Nor do norteña music. Country is a very different beast.
Then there’s people like me, who somehow ended up loving country because of Ryan Adams, Whiskeytown, Big Star and Wilco. People who were mesmerised by the ending of High Plains Drifter, or obsessed with Once Upon a time in the west. My dad loves Westerns, so I have an inherited love of the genre. I remember listening to the soundtrack of The good, the bad and the ugly on tape when we lived in Tula, Hidalgo.
I don’t know how The Clench found me. Maybe there was a bounty on my head. Maybe they read my The Payroll Union reviews. Maybe…Mexico? Who knows? I received a copy of Walkin’ in the devil’s tracks by mail. The review took some time because I was knee deep in lab work. Then I went through a messy break-up and oddly enough, the first album I heard after the break was a The Clench album.
Somehow, it seemed to fit. The narrative, especially on ‘Act of Vengeance’ felt just right. Even if you are not going through a melodramatic time in your life, The Clench‘s music, a mix of good ol’ country with Americana rock, hits the right notes. Whiskey swillin’, roadtrippin’, fights in supermarkets, it’s all there. With a different approach to the genre than the one The Payroll Union, their closest congener, takes, The Clench avoids being morose ruffians and instead go for the rustler approach. No hired hands here, no siree bob, this is a group of well-known cuatreros, ready for some action, always with the Devil’s hand in their left hand, a six-shooter on the right hand, rizzla paper inside their sleeves. A man prepared…
For some parts of Sheffield, a six-shooter might come in handy. Oh, yes, it does.
Catching them live was a bit of trick. They don’t have that many gigs, but the ones I got into, ooh wee, a lot of fun to be had. They opened for Hat Fitz and Cara Robinson back in 2012 at the Greystones. It was a Wagon Wheel gig, curated by the Americana legend that is Craig Allen, the only damn fella in Sheffield that knows how to put an Americana gig (I tried and failed). Anyways, Joe Field interviewed them for Sloucher and the off-kilter conversation was a hoot. The gig was a holler and I couldn’t believe it took me so damn long to see them live. Six bullets. Vocals, electric guitar, bass, lap steel, drums, and an acoustic six string. All headshots. Always intense and with a passion for a genre often ignored by the Thin and the Trendy (TM).
My second to last gig in Sheffield was at The Green Room. It’s a bizarre place. It seems to be counterintuitive to have gigs there, but most times they work just north of right. That night was a Saturday, so it was packed with the usual ghosts and goblins that roam West Street, trying to pull anything with a heartbeat. So, there I was, with a printed copy of an email saying I had to get the fuck out of
Dodge Sheffield, watching six guys trying to fit in a tiny ass stage. I placed myself near them, just beside a group of drunken forty-year-old women. I’ve never been so goosed in my life. I moved away quick-snap.
The gig was probably better than the one at the Greystone’s. Don’t take this wrong, Hat Fitz and Cara Robinson were a sight to behold, but on that cold, bitter December night, when the reality of the end of The Sheffield Years was weighing like a millstone around my neck, the swingin’ rock of The Clench made it an easier pill to swallow.
The Clench are still knocking about, with a new recording taped at the lovely Old Pig Farm Studios. I can’t publish anything yet, but I managed to have a quick chat with guitarist (and Tom Sizemore aficionado) James McVeigh regarding The Clench:
“We’re still going. Had our first proper practice last night, just can’t commit to live shows. New album is in the bag though, with added strings and banjo! Also, we’re now a 7 piece! Got a keyboard player in and hopefully rejuvenating us!”
Sadly, we got derailed into a long ass conversation on the magic of Michael Mann‘s films, so for the time being, that’s all that can be revealed. So if you need music to disappear into the sunset, flying to parts unknown, maybe Mexico, pick out the Americana rockin’ tunes of these desperados, still snarling until the cows come home.
Words: Sam J. Valdés López