Dave Clupper

Letting Go

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Folksinger Dave Clupper clearly takes Woody Guthrie as his model. On his second album, Letting Go, he dedicates an original song, "Woody's (Birthday) Song," to his idol and presents a medley of "This Land Is Your Land" (actually sung by a woman, probably his wife Jill Clupper) with "Play Mate." What Clupper has in common with Guthrie, besides his music style, is his approach, which is distinctly homemade. Like Guthrie, Clupper comes off as self-taught, and these recordings, some of which are drawn from live performances, have a D.I.Y. character. But Guthrie's abilities as a raconteur and lyricist were only enhanced by his homespun style of performing, while Clupper comes off more as an earnest amateur. He certainly knows how to play the guitar, which he demonstrates with passages of fingerpicking (at least, one assumes it's him playing, since the album lists no performing credits). But he seems, at best, under-rehearsed, which is a description that also applies to the ensemble playing on the record. In particular, the drumming, when it appears, often seems to be in a different tempo from Clupper and his other accompanists. But then tempo is only one problem; another is pitch. Again, Clupper's models, such as Guthrie and Ramblin' Jack Elliott, were never any more concerned with singing consistently in a particular key than they were with singing in time, but they made such carelessness work for them, while Clupper merely sounds incompetent. Then too, his antecedents were singing classic songs, while his originals are mediocre at best, full of enjambed lines with banal words set to uncertain melodies. Clupper isn't bad enough to be funny, like Tiny Tim or William Hung, and he certainly isn't bad enough to come off as a musical idiot savant, like the Shaggs or the Legendary Stardust Cowboy. He's just bad enough to fall below the threshold of minimum ability for someone who fancies himself a singer and songwriter, making him painful to listen to.

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