Album Review: Clover — Clover and Fourty Niner

Clover doesn’t rank in the top tiers of musical acts in terms of notoriety. Mention their name to most music fans and you’ll earn a blank stare. If they’re known at all, it’s generally for one of two things: the guy who fronted the band in their later days was a singer called Huey Louis (he’d later change the spelling to Lewis); and the fact that the band provided anonymous (in terms of credit not quality) for a young Elvis Costello on his debut LP.

So endeth the trivia round; Clover should also be known for a pair of quality (if largely unknown) albums released in 1970 and 1971. And the folks at Real Gone Music have done their part to correct this oversight, with the release of Clover and Fourty Niner (sic).

Clover played a fine, solid, good-timin’ sort of country rock when the musical combination of those two genres was fairly new. And their version of it deserved better than obscurity it found. “Shotgun” sounds a lot like Delaney and Bonnie‘s “Only You and I Know,” and “Southbound Train” is from the Grateful Dead school of pop music. “Going to the Country” combines a jangly picking arrangement with something a bit more ambitious.

On the 21 tracks that make up these two albums, the band favors a sort of cross between Fantasy labelmates Creedence Clearwater Revival and Little Feat in places, though they can move in a much more jugband direction when they care to. Most of the time it works well, and when it doesn’t – as on the blues-by-way-of-the-Grateful Dead “Stealin’” – it’s still not awful. And those rare weak spots are more than redeemed by the crackling lead guitar work on numbers like the Moby Grape-flavored gospel number“Wade in the Water.”

“No Vacancy” is straight-no-chaser hardcore country, heavy on the pedal steel, and it’s a delight, right down to the close vocal harmony work. “Lizard Rock and Roll Band” isn’t (despite its title) very rocking, but it does feature some nice multiple lead guitar interplay. “Could You Call it Love” has some lovely vocal work reminiscent of Poco.

Despite the total lack of chart action for 1970’s Clover, the band kept to their musical approach for the following year’s Fourty Niner. “Harvest” does expand the instrumentation a bit; the piano/organ combination creates a Band-like ambience in the process. “Keep on Tryin’” does rock a little harder than most of the first record’s material. Some tasty swamp-rock guitar (that CCR vibe again) makes “Sound of Thunder” one of the disc’s most enjoyable tracks.

With a title like “Chicken Butt” it’s no surprise to find a bluegrass-styled number; this one is a lot of fun, with some lively fiddle and banjo work. “Sunny Mexico” is a trifle, a fun enough musical excursion, but it’s docked several points for anticipating Jimmy Buffett. The whole affair wraps up with perhaps the strongest track of all, “If I Had My Way.” The song combines all of the Band’s best elements – the country-rock, the gospel flavoring, the harmonies, the guitar fillips, the solid drum work, even the damn goofy vibes – into a catchy tune.

No new music from Clover would come until 1977. The band members went their separate ways in 1978; the most well-known member from the days of these records is John McPhee, recognizable as a member of The Doobie Brothers during their most commercially successful years. Guitarist/lead singer Alex Call provides a liner note essay for this 2012 compilation; some archival single sleeves and band pics round out the set nicely.

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