It’s not every day that I get the pleasure of discovering some truly great new music. My mailbox is frequently flooded with crap, ranging from masturbatory jazzmen wanking on half-baked tribute albums to stale rockers churning out derivative garbage. Thus, I was taken by surprise when a buddy said "I want you to hear the upcoming release from my friend’s band," and he delivered an excellent and thoroughly addictive CD. The band is called Smokelahoma, and I cannot seem to remove their outstanding new album Bucket of Clams, from my CD player.
Smokelahoma may be the best named band in history. Not only does their moniker evoke an illegal smile, but it’s also incredibly fitting for their sound, a playful blend of stripped down acoustic tunes in a dust bowl setting combined with the chill attitude of a group of guys who like to smoke more than just tobacco. Bucket of Clams is definitely a feel good record, and from hearing the opening notes, you’ll have to fight the overwhelming urge to kick back, relax, and burn a fatty on a sun-drenched afternoon.
An easy-going atmosphere certainly permeates this album. "Let It Roll" is a great grin-inducing opener that speaks longingly of the ability to escape and let life drift on by. Dan Klepinger’s Hammond B-3 work on the bridge is somewhat reminiscent of Bob Dylan’s "Like a Rolling Stone," and Mike Morgan’s voice is a close match to that of Mr. Zimmerman, although Morgan has a lot less of a hard edge and a lot more accurate pitch. The title track that follows furthers the happy-go-lucky sentiment. Filled with organ washes and a catchy, hook-laden chorus, it’s hard to avoid falling into the addictive positive vibrations of this optimistic tune. The mellow shuffle continues on "Bread of Life Mission," a track that features Klepinger gracefully dancing across the keys while masking a more serious subtext about homelessness. The most beautiful song on the album also has the worst title: "Smoke a Dooby." It’s a real shame that Smokelahoma goes for the obvious tact here when they spend 3 minutes and 30 seconds crafting a gorgeous, intoxicatingly melodic ballad with lyrics that are open for interpretation. Then they suddenly start singing "Smoke a dooby" on the coda. While the sentiment certainly fits with the band’s oeuvre, it’s just an unnecessary and somewhat ham-fisted turn that causes a great song to find an immature ending. With a slight lyric change, this tune could be a big hit for any number of seductive female singers.
This album is much more than peaceful ballads. "18 Wheels" is a thundering, barrelhouse rocker that harkens back to the Grateful Dead circa 1974. Of course, that’s no small surprise because Klepinger has logged his fair share of time as the keyboardist du jour in Dark Star Orchestra. Arlo Guthrie’s "Coming Into Los Angeles" is a perfect cover for this band with Morgan’s scratchy voice and intense acoustic rhythms blending well with Rusty Urie’s trippy electric guitar work. In a completely different spin, "Blind Fiddler" sings a tale of desperation that begins in a bouncy, reggae-like style before exploding with seething rage.
In a world of over-produced music that is doused with effects, Smokelahoma’s Bucket of Clams is a revelation. It’s nothing more than a heartfelt album filled with top-notch songs that lift up your spirit, and this fantastic release serves as a fine reminder that there is true beauty to be found in simplicity.