Kelby Clark is a New Orleans based pedal steel guitarist who is probably best known for his industrial soundscapes as Divorce Ring. Yet the music under his own name is a world away from abrasion, unexpectedly offering up a sparse, cinematic desert twang that is ridiculously atmospheric and minimal. He’s aware of the instrument’s power, not playing too many notes, preferring instead let the natural reverberations do their work. It’s a restrained style that highlights the beauty of this truly remarkable instrument. The pedal steel probably first registered for me via Ben Keith’s remarkable work on Neil Young’s Harvest and a bunch of his other releases. It’s a sound that just puts you in a place, and that place is unmistakably rural America possibly due to the links with country music – which is kind’ve interesting that its ended up there given its earlier history in Hawaiian music.
Regardless it’s a versatile instrument, and Clark mines the hypnotism on this minimal 8 track album. This is music for atmosphere, particularly thanks to the jazzy Grady Tatesque shuffling percussion that seems to come in waves before disappearing altogether for long periods of time. It’s a place where country meets jazz meets soundtrack, with titles like Snake Eyes, Through The Smoke and Revolver. It’s music for late night, for slowing down, taking a deep breath and keeping an eye on the horizon.
It’s a really unique aesthetic, and it feels like Clark has somehow modernised the instrument thanks to the sparse instrumentations, restrained arrangements, and its dreamy reverberant quality which is strangely reminiscent of ambient music. Whilst the tunes feel loose and improvised there’s a warmth and shimmering beauty to the album, where it never feels like its not meant to be exactly as it is. Maybe we’ve been conditioned to feel this but Casino gets into your very soul, its music that just seeps in, probably because you cant help but open the door.