Theme Thursday: Clutch
Summer is approaching, and I don’t know about you, when the seasons change, so does my go-to music. In the Autumn I tend to prefer jolly folk metal, in the Winter time cold and bleak music finds itself getting a lot of play. and in Spring thrash and power metal tends to get a lot of rotation as I come out of my winter hibernation. In the summer, I find my preferred seasonal genres rather eclectic ranging from trying to cool myself down with some Moonsorrow or embracing the heat with some blistering speed metal. But if there’s one band that always seems to completely dominate my summer time playlists it’s one of my all time favorite bands, Clutch.
While I wouldn’t exactly call their music exactly metal (with the exception of their first 2 albums) these Maryland rockers are the perfect band to put on whether you are doing some cruising with the top down taking in the sun, grilling up some grub and kicking back with some beers and buds in your backyard, or roasting yourself on the beach. There isn’t a summer activity occasion where Clutch won’t fit the bill. And there is the perfect Summer treat, a Clutch live show.
Since the bands inception in the early 90s, they’ve been rocking with same lineup of Neil Fallon on vocals, Jean-Paul Gaster on drums and percussion, Dan Maines on the bass, and Tim Sult on guitar. For 2 albums (Robot Hive/Exodus, From Beale Street to Oblivion) Clutch invited Mick Schauer to play on the Hammond electric organ as well as jam on a few live shows with them. Their musical style could be described as Southern Appalachian Americana hard blues rock. They take a lot of influence from American folk music, mainly the blues style akin to Robert Johnson and Howlin’ Wolf, and add insane amounts of groove and flow to it. The vast majority of their albums are recorded live and very little to no studio trickery such as drum triggers or computer programs like Pro-tools are used. This gives all of their records a really home-grown feel and while not downplaying the skills and necessity of Neil Fallon and Tim Sult, the natural sound of the drums and bass (you really need to see Dan Maines live set, those Marshall stacks are f’n thundering) really give Clutch the feel they need to be the unstoppable powerhouse they are.
Here I’ll highlight all of their major studio albums. But keep in mind that they have a ton of excellent E.P.s, live albums/DVDs, and Bside and rarity collections that are well worth hunting down. And if you ever have the chance to see Clutch live (should not be hard, to this day they tour constantly hitting up as many spots in the States as possible) do not turn down the opportunity. There’s a reason I’ve seen them live 13+ times (they also will never play the same set twice, so each show is completely unique). Enjoy! Peace Love and Grooves.
Transnational Speedway League: Anthems, Anecdotes & Undeniable Truths
Clutch’s 1993 stellar debut record is by far their heaviest record and is the only one I would call a pure metal record. With a thick base made up of hardcore puck, Clutch injects thick Southern metal riffing, thundering and groovy rhythms, and a wicked sense of humor. Songs like “A Shogun Named Marcus” will have you singing “A bebop, lobop, a whopp shamboo” while you thrust your metal horns forward and headbang till the cows come home. “Binge and Purge” and “Walking in the Great Shining Path of Monster Trucks” features molasses thick grooves you will never be able to escape and “Rats” will get your metal booty shaking. Throughout the record Neil Fallon’s gruff vocals add a great raw feel and the music, while still nice and stripped down, never lets the record get to raw, but never feels overly produced to the point where you don’t catch the DIY vibe of the album.
In 1995 Clutch released their followup to Transitional Speedway…. and like as any great 2nd album they took everything that made their debut so great and vastly improved on it and pushed their sound forward. Here we start to find large slabs of the Clutch we know today rearing its head. While the groove factor was pretty strong on the previous they kicked it into overdrive and from the first bass licks of the pirate themed songs “Big News I” and “Big News II” they proved they have more groove than Mr. George Clinton himself. Even with the copious amounts of thick and flowing beats and grooves they still keep their metal edge, but now with an even more Southern feel. Not a Lynard Skynard feel, more of a Robert Johnson jamming to a Sunday Mass in a Baptist church with Neil Fallon giving the sermon.
“Escape from the Prison Planet” (yes, it is about Snake Pliskin ;) ) just straight up jams with one of the coolest riffs and memorable chorus’ and “Texan Book of the Dead” fires at full cylinders as it berates you like a drill sergeant with lines from the classic Witch Doctor song. Becoming one of their biggest fan favorite songs is “Spacegrass” where their THC drenched riffing and grooves take you on a trip through space in 73′ Dodge Swinger with the top down and chassis low with Jesus on the dashboard. My personal favorite parts of this album are “Tight Like That”, “7 Jam”, and “Tim Sult vs. The Greys” when they kick the grooves into full effect and really bring out the Southern Baptist blues sounds straight to the forefront. This sound they create is the precursor to things to come as they seemed to enjoy playing this style as much as I loved listening to it.
The Elephant Riders
On a warm summer day in 1998 I rushed to my local record store to grab me a copy of one of my most coveted new releases. Upon seeing a little sticker on the packaging of the record that read “Heavy! Lift with caution!” I had thought that I was about to listen to their most metal release yet. I was pleasantly surprised I was way wrong about that assumption. This record is not heavy with metal, but heavy with some of the thickest and stickiest grooves and tunes they have written to date. If this album doesn’t make you want to move your body, then I think you may need to go see a doctor about some kind of paralysis you are suffering. Dan Maines and Jean-Paul Gaster are just in over drive throughout the whole album and Neil Fallon’s vocals see an 7200% improvement on all ranges and really defines his unique singing style. Tim Sult’s guitars lay the riffs on like no other and he plays some of his best jams ever.
They lyrics also take a turn on The Elephant Riders where they find themselves being much less aggressive and leaning toward more positive and upbeat themes. Neil also improves his love for wordplay and surrealism a bit being a major precursor for things to come on their later releases. This record also started my ‘best Clutch album ever’ streak where each release I deem their best ever. Going back and listening to their entire discography over the past couple day, I think I can strongly say that The Elephant Riders is their 2nd best album and nearly 15 years later it still feels as fresh as ever. Definitely a do not miss record by them.
While technically an E.P., Jam Room is considered a major release by many fans including myself. On this release Clutch more or less just walked into a studio, jammed, recorded all of it, cleaned it up slightly, and released it. Here you find the Maryland boys at their most experimental just jamming around and playing some bsides they wrote as well as a good chunk of improvisation. Some of the bands best tunes are contained on here and some of the craziest lyrics that Neil has written yet also pop up.
The E.P.’s opener “Who Want’s to Rock?” has become a staple at their live shows. “Big Fat Pig” includes one of best boot kickin’ grooves the boys have ever written as well as some fun and clever lyrics about religious fanatics. When I was overworking myself in various restaurants the tune “One Eyed Dollar” became my theme song, and the psychedelic and lazy “Swamp Boat Upside Down” became my go-to wind down tune after I earned my one eyed dollar.
The E.P. has been re-released in 2004, so you won’t have to do all the hunting I did (err, buying it a show) and now includes some added material not found on the original release as well as some nifty packaging.
Pure Rock Fury
In 2001 Clutch found their big break. They kept with the same bluesy sound they delved deep into with The Elephant Riders and started with a bit of experimentation. With the hit single “Careful With That Mic”, the one-off song where they do a crossbreed of blues rock and hip-hop, they hit the American mainstream. Along with this record and relentless touring (I saw them 4 times the year this album was release!!) there was nary a music fan that hadn’t caught wind of this band yet.
On Pure Rock Fury they live up to exactly what the album title would leave you to believe. Every track is rockin’ with a bluesy fury whether it be the driving intro “American Sleep”, the title track, or the long time fan favorite “Immortal”. They also introduce gospel music elements into their tunes with the unforgettable track “Sinkemlow” and all round catchier songwriting with tracks like “Open Up the Border” and “Red Horse Rainbows”.
Neil’s lyrics really get very abstract and more intelligent on this record using them more to paint a picture or scene than tell a straight up story or feeling. Lines like “Take a good plane and shave off all the edges; Not straight enough to make a perfect structure; Indigenous life must be in agreement; Like one meaning some, and zero meaning nothing” will have you pondering their meaning while you groove your ass off. The wordplay is also in top form with “Careful with that Mic” really exposing Neil’s lyrical talents putting him on par with some of the best hip-hop artists out there.
Sticking with a nice regular release schedule Clutch crank out another amazing record and drive their unique sound forward and revel in even more success without letting it get to their heads at all. 2004’s Blast Tyrant is yet another front to back solid gold record and is heralded as the bands best work by many fans. It is pretty much Clutch doing what they do best but even tighter now.
If Pure Rock Fury didn’t get the band the exposure they needed they found some help with a big fan of theirs, Jackass star Bam Margera. He went on to feature their music often in his spinoff show and directed the music video for “The Mob Goes Wild” which featured cameos from the entire Jackass crew.
Along with their great ‘normal Clutch songs’, they also pushed the envelope further by adding some great instrumental jams, “Weather Maker” and “WYSIWYG”, and some more ’emotional’ songs, “Ghost” and “(Notes From The Trial Of) La Curandera”. They also have some of their most fun songs yet on this record in the form of “Cypress Grove” and “Subtle Hustle”. Again, their isn’t anything close to filler or a remotely ‘meh’ song for the whole record.
Out of all my albums, including Iron Maiden and Opeth records, I don’t think I’ve listened to a single album more than 2005’s Blast Tyrant more. This album has everything I want in a rockin’ Clutch record and by far my favorite record by the band.
The lyrics get a bit strange on the record, but while odd and abstract, they make perfect sense when you take a peek into them. Lots of Bilical imagery is used throughout the record and give the music a nice mystical feel. One of my favorite tracks off the record is “Burning Beard” and is the reason why I will always see Neil as a maddened preacher (the video helps that imagery too). “Shadow of the New Praetorian; Tipping Cows in fields Elysian; Saturnalia for all you have; The seven habits of the highly infected calf”. Damn interesting stuff and there’s a wealth of interesting topics to look up that are referenced to throughout the record.
This record also marks the introduction of Mick Schauer to the band playing the Hammond electric organ. His inclusion adds a whole new dynamic to the band. While I probably could never get tired of the Clutch sound, his inclusion adds a nice breeze of fresh air that keeps their sound from going anywhere near stale. A great example of the amount of life he brought to the band can be heard on the ‘ribonucleic acid freakout’ “10001110101” where he just brings the groove to levels uncharted. Also of note on the record is the excellent Howlin’ Wolf cover “Who’s Been Talkin’?” where they pay some great homage to their heritage. If I could recommend one album by this band, Robot Hive/Exodus would be it.
From Beale Street to Oblivion
Now Clutch are on cruise control. 2007’s From Beale Street to Oblivion‘s is classic Clutch. Not a huge jump in the innovation department, but yet again, everything on the record is just some great rock and roll.
Some of my favorite track off the album is the infectious “The Devil and Me”, the psychedelic “Child of the City”, and the super clever stab at overzealous, hypocritical ‘hipsters’ “When Vegans Attack”. The super-bluesy lead single of the record “Electric Worry” is nothing but damn good time with a wicked harmonica solo and “Mr. Shiny Cadilackness” has some amazing low-end work.
Strange Cousins From the West
2009’s Strange Cousins From the West has Clutch taking a step back and going for a more raw live sound. They also dig around in rock and roll more than the blues and in the end refreshing their sound once again.
“Struck Down” has some grooves that I will put money on that they will get your feet itching to move and “Abraham Lincoln” is a great oldschool styled stoner rock tune about, well, America’s most loved president, Abraham Lincoln. “Motherless Child” has some great hooks and “50,000 Unstoppable Watts” has a great Thin Lizzy feel to it. Again, everything is of top quality, and at the rate the band is cruising at, their next one should be no disappointment whatsoever. Now, go get yourself some Clutch records!