March 29, 2007

CD Review: Clutch - From Beale Street to Oblivion

This is my very first exposure to Clutch. Yes, it's true, prior slipping this into the player I had no exposure to the band. Although, I am sure that I stumbled across a song or two here or there on soundtracks and compilations, though I cannot be entirely sure. That said, this album has insidiously crept into my head and kept me grooving long after the sounds were silenced. There belnd of Southern flavored rock, blues, stoner jam, and groove all blend to create an album that was not immediately to my taste, but repeat listening allows it to get inside and grow, like a mushroom in the dark just waiting to be picked.

Clutch has been a very active band with a number of albums and EPs being released ever since their label debut EP release through EastWest records in 1992, Passive Restraints. Nearly every year since then has seen a release of Clutch material, whether it be a full length album, EP, or collection, they are always easy to be found. This makes my lack of exposure all the more impressive. Certainly I was aware of the band, but for some reason never picked anything up. Well, those days are finally behind us. I have now been formerly introduced to the grooviness that is Clutch and their new album: From Beale Street to Oblivion, released by drt Entertainment.

So, without their past work to create a frame of reference, I have entered the fray relatively clean, save for my own musical preferences which have a habit of creeping into everything I listen to. My first pass through the album was not a terribly positive one. There was that uncertainty of what to expect, I had no idea what I was going to hear, and frankly, I was expecting something heavier. The stoner southern rock groove that greeted me caught me off guard, so the initial reaction swayed towards the "not so great" end of the scale. A few more passes, this time with a different mindset, and the riffs and flow have gotten past my defenses and shown me how good this album really is.

The album has a very "live" feel to it, there is a raw, clean sound that seems to be free from studio tinkering. That isn't to say it is not well produced, it is, but it really sounds as if the band got together in the studio and just recorded each of the cuts straight up. Plug and play, if you will. It has a lot of character, genuine emotion flows through the album.

I do not know how Clutch sound on their past recordings, but this album sounds like a band from the 1970's, but it is more than that. A rock and roll jam band that takes its old school influences and blends them with modern sensibilities, coming together to create this sound that knows where it came from yet isn't just regurgitating it. Clutch has made an album that cannot be easily labeled, it refuses to be stuck in one category.

I cannot say that any of the individual musicians stand out, but the music does not seem to be about the instruments so much as it is about the song. Everyone comes together to create this tapestry of sound, from the guitar riffs to the bass bed, from the solid drums to the stoner grungy voice, not to mention the liberal use of harmonica and organ (which sound very cool) everything in just the right place. They remind me of a groovier/bluesier version of Corrosion of Conformity.

Bottomline. I cannot say any single song stands out, but the album, as a whole, is quite impressive. After that initial expectation laden listening, I have found it hard not to get caught up in the sheer catchiness of the riffs and rhythms. This is a flat out rocking album!



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