CD Review: The Cleverlys – Blue

The dictionary (well online anyways) defines the word “crossroads” as: “an intersection of two or more routes”. The Clevery BLUE intersection, doesn’t have a blinking light, a YIELD or even a MERGE sign. It’s a mostly bluegrass right of way (free for all) where several different musical ‘roots’ come together all at once to merge into a well formed direction of travel. After doing some basic research, I still can’t honestly tell if the five guys that make up the Cleverly “trio” are actually related as they claim to be on stage. One thing is for sure- they somehow absolutely do share a musical chromosome. The line from Joni Mitchell’s “Free Man in Paris” (‘Stoking the star making machinery behind the popular song’) somehow came to mind when I first heard these folks years ago. Were they just another Branson act of the same roots of Homer and Jethro from the 60’s? Nope-their comedy is out there-Arkansas type of out there along with some really fine picking. Or is it fine picking with some comedy? You can tell that they aren’t from around here. They use words like “hunerd” for hundred, and “ain’t” for not, “hisseff” for himself, among others with the familiar southern twang. These substitutions provide a good setting for the direction that these songs are bent into.

Despite changes in their lineup over the years, (one can only imagine due to Cleverly “family” issues), their sound and stage presentation has remained pretty much constant i.e. covers of non bluegrass pop tunes. Not your father’s pop tunes, but material you’d never imagine would work with bluegrass instrumentation. Tunes from the likes of Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, Beyonce, the Black Eyed Peas, Zombies, and other artists.

Recently, while driving, I heard their rendition of Justin Bieber’s “Baby” on Bluegrass Junction. I first heard the Cleverly version about a half dozen years ago-and immediately thought: “This is just getting airplay now? How did I miss that?” Nope, turns out that these folks are just now finally coming into their own thanks to a recent signing with Mountain Home Records. Never having listened to Mr. Bieber, I searched out his version to see the roots of this song and I’ve got to say that for my tastes, the Cleverly version is how this tune was meant to be played, at least for the adults in the room! It just happens to be that this is the first cut on the CD. Were they trying to get it over and done with or was it meant to be a great toe tapping preview of the really good and unique arrangements that follow?

The pickin’, vocal harmonies, and arrangements are very well done and showcase their musical talents nicely. As a matter of personal taste, I think the last two cuts leave something to be desired (like more of what they do best-pick and sing ‘cleverly’ done arrangements). Ralph Stanley’s “Oh Death” is over produced for my likes, and isn’t likely to be something that they could do live. I have no idea what “The End of the Record” was meant to convey. John Hartford, the Gibson Brothers and others have successfully used outtakes on their recordings to enhance their finished product. I wish that the Cleverlys had included some of their other tunes like “Girl with No Panty Lines”, or “Aint no Sunshine” but, like I said, it’s a crossroads. I guess ya gotta merge, or get out of the way for these guys. Well done men, well done!

This video is well worth a listen.

Mountain Home Music

Mike Fowler

Mike Fowler is a member of the board of directors of the Hudson Valley Bluegrass Association as well as the Secretary of the Antique Truck Club of America.  He is a retired IBM'er, former middle school music educator, and tractor trailer driver.   Mike currently fills his spare time restoring antique vehicles and trying to teach himself the 5 string banjo.  He has been into folk and bluegrass music since pre-high school days, with a love for the acoustic guitar.  Mike and his wife, Kathleen live in the hamlet of Modena. Together they have raised four healthy and successful children and now are enjoying the the role of grandparents for their 7 grandchildren. 

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