60. The Clientele – Devil got my woman

February 21, 2014

/ Since K got over me, Pointy, 2005


It’s always irritated the OCD-part of me that Backed with fell silent on 59 entries rather than at a nice round number, so while I’m busy posting the A sides of 45s over at A jumped-up pantry boy, and in particular the Clientele’s ‘Lacewings’, it seemed like time to put that right here.  Prior to The violet hour, the Clientele’s format of choice was the seven inch; their B sides consistently matched the high, idiosyncratic standards of the A, though they were usually bathed in a more reflective glow.  So it is with the B side I’ve chosen – their cover of Skip James’ ‘Devil got my woman’.

Round these parts we know full-well that the Clientele fell tripping on acid through a wormhole connecting 1968 to 1997.  But you can make a case that the group are linked to other times than that of the Quicksilver Messenger Service.  Subsequently discovered wormholes have enabled them to time-travel back to 1979 to produce Ze-era NY disco (‘Bookshop Casanova’, ‘Share the night’, ‘I wonder who we are’) and to 1931, to channel the spirit of Skip James on this B side, recorded in 2004 as a demo for possible inclusion on Strange geometry.  (Though truth be told, it may have been the song’s appearance in the 2001 film Ghost world which first brought it to their attention.)

Alasdair MacLean is a great guitar player, and you have to wonder whether he like Robert Johnson went down to some out of the way Mississippi crossroads (actually, given where he spent his formative years, perhaps it was the underpass leading to the Shepherd & Flock roundabout in Farnham) and there sold his soul for such other-worldly talent.  Of course, it could just be long hours of practice and nothing much on British telly during the first half of the nineties.  Whether devil or dedication, there can be few out there in the international pop underground who could improvise on a Skip James number, let alone sing it with the same kind of brooding presence that the original possesses (or is possessed by).  And this despite the fact that as with many of the Clientele’s earlier recordings, it sounds like Alasdair’s vocal was phoned in transatlantically.  They put that right on an incomparable three-piece version of the song played live on the radio for KEXP Seattle in November 2005, and in my dreams, this is the version which appears on the B side of ‘Since K got over me.’