Clutch travels down bluesy street on ‘Oblivion’

By Gus Bode

Clutch “From Beale Street to Oblivion”

Release Date: March 27

Record Label: Drt Records

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Rating: 4/5 stars

Clutch has finally made the transition from Pure Rock Fury to Delta Blues swagger and southern rock stomp on the subdued but superb “From Beale Street to Oblivion.”

Over the course of its 15-year career, Clutch has always flirted with blues interludes, spacey jams and twinges of Hammond organ on 2005’s “Robot Hive: Exodus,” 2001’s “Pure Rock Fury” and 1998’s “Elephant Riders,” but “From Beale Street to Oblivion” finds the band delving further into retro rock. Although the group’s latest is not as frenetic or heavy as it’s breakthrough album, “Blast Tyrant,” Clutch happily trades ferocity for endearing melodies and grooves deeper than the Grand Canyon.

“Beale Street” doesn’t have the immediacy of “Robot Hive,” but the members of Clutch sound better here than they ever have, both musically and lyrically.

The chromatic riff of “Child of the City,” the thumping beat of “One Eye Dollar” and the distorted guitar lead on “Power Player” offer nice nods to Clutch’s previous harder-edged work, but “Beale Street” is dominated by guitarist Tim Sult’s bluesy machination and singer Neil Fallon’s booming, Pentecostal-preacher wail.

This roots-inspired aesthetic is best embodied on the harmonica-and-Hammond organ driven “Black Umbrella” and the plodding, morose neo-Delta Blues of “Electric Worry.” “Mr. Shiny Cadillacness” is propelled by a repeating bass groove and spoken verses while “Rapture Of Riddley Walker” is an inflected jam that easily fits anywhere in Clutch’s expansive catalog.

Fallon displays his sense of humor on the riff-happy “The Devil And Me” and the funky, ZZ Top-esque “When Vegans Attack.” Even the raucous, rocking “You Can’t Stop Progress” fits perfectly in place on an album that liberally cris-crosses genres and musical decades between each song.

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“From Beale Street to Oblivion” may not be what Clutch fans necessarily expected or even wanted, but it’s the most solid record of the band’s career thus far. While there’s no immediate equivalent of fan favorites such as “The Mob Goes Wild,” “Burning Beard,” “Cypress Grove” or “Regulator,” the laid-back jams and blues riffs that fill “Oblivion” are just as satisfying.

Clutch had always hinted at a penchant for blues melody and southern rock styling, but “From Beale Street to Oblivion” finally delivers on that promise with great success.

Hardcore fans might be miffed with the band’s ability to soften up, and Clutch may sound more subdued here, the tunes and Fallon’s lyrics remain as powerful as ever.

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