The most entertaining track (of many) on Wood & Wire’s excellent new album, No Matter Where It Goes From Here, comes at the end. “Clamp’s Chute” is a nine-minute long live instrumental that is reminiscent of the kind of thing the Grateful Dead and/or Old & In The Way would do.
And it comes with a tale.
“Clamp” refers to the late great fiddler Vassar Clements, who was known to clamp down on his pipe as he played. Wood & Wire mandolinist Billy Bright wrote the song in 2005 after a series of appearances with Clements and a vaguely remembered tale from the man.
Clements told him — or maybe Bright dreamt that he did, he says — that he had once jumped out of a plane and his parachute had failed to open. Clements had to grab a hold of his buddy and ride along, under his parachute, to the ground. Hence, “Clamp’s Chute.”
Such stories, tall or otherwise, just beg to be set to good music, and this is no exception.
No Matter Where It Goes From Here tells a lot of tales. It has some strong bluegrass elements to it — enough, in fact, to delight the most diehard fan of the genre. (Their previous album, North of Despair, was nominated for a Grammy in the bluegrass album category for 2018.) But it goes well beyond that: Just because there is a lot of hefty banjo-picking doesn’t mean you get “Orange Blossom Special” (not that there is anything wrong with that).
It is just the kind of thing Clements fans will relish, though there’s nary a fiddle in sight.
The first track, “John,” sets the tone. Written by Tony Kamel (guitar and vocals), it tells the very un-bluegrassy tale of a buddy from his upper middle class, private-school days in Houston. Both might have been expected to become fund managers or some such, but Kamel became a musician and John is a commercial salmon fisherman in Alaska — they shook off that destiny to instead become “seekers, searchers, and drifters.”
Further in you get “Pigs,” an angry, rocky number (again by Kamel, here with Nashville songwriter Silas Lowe) that looks at the mess of modern life — particularly its focus on money and the influence of reality TV stars and evangelists. These are the “pigs” that are sowing hatred on the tube, but, as the lyrics have it, we are all just digging for the end: “Pigs don’t fly / We all gonna die / And you can’t take your money to the grave.”
History buffs — musical and otherwise — will also enjoy the band’s rendition of Geoff Union’s “Spirit of ’94,” a rollicking folk number about the 1794 Whiskey Rebellion in Western Pennsylvania.
As well as Bright and Kamel, Wood & Wire comprises Trevor Smith (banjo and vocals) and Dom Fisher (guitar and vocals). All four of them play like there is no tomorrow. Vassar Clements would have loved it.