AMN Reviews: Kelby Clark – Casino (2021; Vaagner); Jeremiah Carter & Kelby Clark – Country Music (2021; Vaagner)

American country and folk music are some of the last genres not to be fully embraced by modern creative music efforts. There are exceptions of course, with the band SUSS being one of them. Another can be found in the unconventional sounds of Kelby Clark, who has recently released two albums that reflect, if not explore, the darkness overtaking rural America.

Clark is a pedal steel guitarist who employs that instrument along with a loose set of percussive elements for eight short tracks of ambient, country-laden free improv. He layers twanging and swelling drones over rhythms driven by cymbal and snare, with an odd bass tone emerging from time to time. There is a moody melancholy to these pieces, and almost a sense of mild danger. Intended as an exploration of the desperation found on hazy floors of run-down casinos, the album can represent so much more, and is an unusually rich amalgam of expression and moods. Casino was originally released in 2020 and has now been re-released with new artwork and two additional tracks.

On Country Music, Clark teams with Jeremiah Carter for 30 minutes of gritty, lo-fi improv with Clark on pedal steel and dobro, while Carter employs a variety of instruments including fiddle, harmonium, concertina, hammered dulcimer, and guitar. Carter also contributes brief plaintive vocals with assistance from Sarah Vivana Valdez. The instrumentation is used to generate harsh, scraping tones overlaying a droning base layer. The stringed instruments are plucked and sawed discordantly. Despite the overall sparseness of this recording, the sounds fully resonate emotionally and evoke a general sense of dissatisfaction and foreboding. It Sure Ain’t Worth a Damn is the closest effort to a conventional “song”, with pensive vocals over strummed guitar. Other than that, Country Music takes country music on a ride through decayed soundscapes.