By definition, snake oil is any number of various substances or mixtures sold as medicine (as by a traveling medicine show) usually without regard to their medical worth or properties. The men of Cletus Romp are carrying the phrase into the modern times, taking their tunes out of the back of a wheeled wagon and shilling what is good for what ails you on their debut, Snake Oil.
Cletus Romp are caregivers. Their regard for the music delivered on Snake Oil assures and gives good Alt Country and Roots’ bedside manner. Where the band slides into the dictionary description of their album title is the mixing pot of music used to concoct audio potions. The sound on Snake Oil borrows liberally from classic rock, rock and soul, swamp grooves and back porch jams echoing the shimmies, slides, and shakes of a million guitar-driven groups, present and past. The band proudly wear their love of Creedence, Motorhead, Drive-By Truckers, Tom Waits, and Motown.
Cincinnati, Ohio is where Cletus Romp calls home. Their traveling show foregoes setting up in the town square, but they nonetheless bear the form and feel of torch-lit tents and soul-saving gospel. Derek Stinson (slide guitar, piano) and Tim Golliher (guitar, banjo) share vocal duties. Mark Karapondo (bass) and Adam Brokamp (drums) anchor the rhythm, while Ryan Moore keeps it real by adding assorted junkyard percussion.
Snake Oil slides into action with the album’s opener, “Tin Roof”. And here is where Cletus Romp show their hand immediately. “Tin Roof” features dual vocals, and a constant and ever-present slide guitar, complemented by a cacophony of banging and beating on percussion. It sets a pace that the band carries well. “Coming Home” moves in like riverbank fog as it leads you along highway roads back to your own bed; “Wicked Left Hand” is a guttural groove fest; “Farmyard” slides along for a tale of the past, and “Floater” stays true to its rhythm-only arrangement as banjo notes keep the beat allowing a variety of percussion to have their sway. The band mellows into a steamy crawl for the appropriately titled “Lullaby”. The vocals add a tender touch as a jangly guitar rides a steady dream beat.
Styles and manner of deliverance aside, Cletus Romp offer an honest brand of Alt Country that keeps artists like Mojo Nixon and Jimbo Mathus on the dashboard for saintly inspiration. They will get under your skin…maybe there is something to that medicine after all. Danny McCloskey/RA