Weird westerns. Gotta love ’em. The cliché of the good guy wearing the white hat, evil being punished, and a good hootin’ and hollerin’ by the townsfolk at the end, all ignored. Instead, true grit is applied until the veneer breaks down into tiny pieces. The lustre is gone, night has fallen, and in the dark blue and pitch black nothingness that was a small mining town, you might hear the wind carrying a song. Is it really just the wind hitting broken windows, bottles and old chimes, or is there a supernatural phenomena occurring?
That song segues into another. It’s like the town coming back to life. The distant howling of coyotes is superseded by a strange occurrence, an impossibility. Country rock songs. One after another. No glitz, no Rhinestone suits and certainly no shiny new cars. This sounds the way Hank would’ve done it. It’s The Clench, with their long gestating self titled album.
No pretensions, no delusions of grandeur. A blues lick carries ‘Get Down’, the opening track. Sets the stage for the stalwart band and their penchant for alt-country. ‘God’s only Gospel truth’ reminds me in parts of the underrated The Volebeats, with the guitar sensibilities of late-80s Peter Buck and that dreamy banjo riff, courtesy of guest superstar Joe Field.
I’m keen on ‘Maybe Mexico’ not only for the obvious reasons (¡ajúa!), but because when I got the boot from Sheffield Uni, The Clench were kind enough to send me the song as a going away gift. I remember clearly loving the feel of the trumpets, a bit of Spaghetti Western here, a little Arturo Sandoval there. Y’all need authenticity in your Western endeavours? A trumpet is always a good building block, throwing shades of orange, ochre, and iron red over the desert scenery.
‘This long road’, with its spacious rhythm, allows the song age well, like a bourbon with a surprisingly amiable sour mash. It feels like a thoughtful album closer, but it’s there, stuck like a middle child, in the midst of a family car that drives a long, dry road into suburbia. ‘Ellen May’, a broken love story in three parts; a screamed lamentation of torrid affairs that will never become fruitful and rescues that were never asked for (perhaps). Then a conclusion. Maybe it was all a fever dream of a ne’er-do-well Tumblrite, maybe it’s an old wives’ tale, shushed in pubs long past their prime.
Now, where The Clench always excel at is being unconventional. ‘A fistful of nothing’ substitutes bravado and Alan Jackson posturing for a haunting musical saw that enriches the track. ‘A fistful of nothing’ allows every single member of The Clench to shine through; a long shootout in the rain where only those armed with instruments are left standing, with nothing but the smouldering ruins of a small town to light their faces. The rain intensifies and they fade as the last bit of burning wood hisses out.
‘Riding into nowhere’ surfs a cinematic feel. Think the gorgeous skies from Open Range manipulated by the deft hand of Michael Mann. A juicy, satisfying track that runs when it needs to, and saunters where everyone else would not dare to slow down. ‘The Silver toes of Morales’ keeps this film-like atmosphere, bookending an album short of tracks but full on emotional brushstrokes. It holds the explosion for a long time and when it finally arrives, it’s momentous.
An ill wind comes to a small mining town, next to an alkaline lake. The desolate town, barren of life for more of a century, trembles when the first thunder rumbles in the distance. The rain comes hard. The deluge pummels the wooden structures, some finally succumbing to the passage of time. Can you see it? The lightning throws shadows of the past, converging into the burnt out saloon. You can see rustlers, cuatreros, and federal marshalls coming back to life as the fat droplets hit the ground harder. For almost 40 minutes, the ruins of the town came to life, and somewhere, in the soaked ruins, the echoes of The Clench‘s country rock resonates to this very day.
Words: Sam J. Valdés López