Until the Cleverlys came along, it was nearly impossible to find bluegrass bands writing songs about podophilia (that’s a fancy word for foot worship), sharing tales of milking alpacas and mixing grassed-up covers of songs from Red Hot Chili Peppers, Flo Rida and Beyoncé into their vast and delightfully strange repertoire. The Arkansas-based faux-family band (from Cane Spur in the Ozarks – but don’t search for it on a map) is led by musician Digger Cleverly (Phil Harris), whose out-of-date eyeglasses are as thick as his hillbilly accent, but whose comic sensibilities are a hilariously off-kilter hybrid of Homer & Jethro and The Office.
On August 12th, Average Joes Entertainment will release the Cleverlys’ debut EP, Cash Crop, which will feature five cover tunes and an original – the title cut, which Digger Cleverly tells Rolling Stone Country is “about our neighbor that was busted for growing illegal pipe tobacco.”
One of the songs they chose to cover on the EP, the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “By the Way,” pays tribute to one of their favorite bands while also invoking the names of legitimately bluegrass acts that have inspired their expert musicianship.
“We could write a book about how much we love the Chili Peppers,” Cleverly says. “Love their timing, especially the bass lines. Great alpaca-milking music!”
Substituting the bombastic, quick-rapped lyrics of the 2002 original for a name-check of musical heroes from Bill Monroe and Lester Flatt to Carl Jackson and Jerry Douglas, among others, the tune is highlighted by an intense Digger Cleverly vocal that’s reminiscent of Ronnie Dunn.
Choosing the tracks to remake for the project was an easy task, according to Cleverly, who says, “We thought to ourselves, ‘If our El Camino was broke down on a deserted island and we only had one eight-track to listen to till we die, who would be on that tape? Beck, Queen Bey, FloRida, Blackstreet and the Chili Peppers.'”
Asserting the band is “a different animal from five years ago” (although he didn’t say which animal), Cleverly explains that the EP, produced by Noah Gordon, finds them getting more musical and creative direction. Asked to expound on that direction, he adds: “Northwest at the moment.”
New episodes of “Meet the Cleverlys,” a 13-part weekly webcast chronicling the band’s escapades, are posted on YouTube every Thursday. Check out the episodes here.
The Cleverlys’ Cash Crop track listing:
“By the Way” (Red Hot Chili Peppers cover)
“Low” (Flo Rida cover)
“Say My Name” (Destiny’s Child cover)
“Loser” (Beck cover)
“Cash Crop” (original)
“No Diggity” (Blackstreet cover)
Cash Crop is available for pre-order at iTunes now with “Loser” as an instant download.