Clarence Brewer

King Clarentz

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Clarence Brewer, better-known as King Clarentz around the Ozark mountain area where he's a fixture on the local scene, mixes the infectious boogie rhythms of John Lee Hooker with the edgier juke joint blues modalism of R.L. Burnside and up-to-the-minute lyrics for a blend that's both irresistible and unique in modern blues. Brewer has developed a strong local following in the Ozarks as a blues performer, sculptor, and folk artist. (One of his woodcuts adorns the cover of his debut album.) Playing slide on a Sears & Roebuck Silvertone guitar while spinning tales of voodoo, politics gone wrong, the devil's den, fast food killing the populace, and bad women and whiskey, King Clarentz is a totally modern-thinking, cutting-edge bluesman who produces a sound that is positively crude and archaic.

But he's far more than just a good-time performer with a backwoods style; Clarence Brewer is a modern artist with much to say and a beautifully raucous way of saying it. From the opening boogie rasp of "Bed Spring Boogie," you just know this is not going to be some paint-by-the-numbers blues album, full of familiar old Albert King licks as filtered through the latest pretender to the throne. By contrast, Brewer's sound is so backwoods he immediately gives the impression that he couldn't find downtown with a road map. But a deeper listen shows an artist writing original blues in the here and now, and finely wrought gems like "Fast Food, Slow Death" and "Old GOP" sport pointed lyrics lurking in power-boogie clothes. Produced by Skeletons-Morells genius Lou Whitney and ably backed by the Skeletons, who provide minimal but perfect support, tracks like "Halloween Blues" and "Juice in the Hole" shine like the raw diamonds they are. For interesting covers, King Clarentz takes on John Lee Hooker's "Whiskey and Women," Jessie Mae Hemphill's "Spyin' and Talkin'," Robert Johnson's "Preachin' Blues" (a Johnson tune that hasn't been done to death and is nicely approached here), and, of all things, Procol Harum's "Whiskey Train," making a fitting closer for an album that truly takes some chances and brings a new voice to the blues in the bargain.

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