Clutch - Strange Cousins From the West (Weathermaker Music)
By: Justin Donnelly
[7.5/10] Riding high on the success of their critically acclaimed album From Beale Street To Oblivion and their first-ever live DVD release Full Fathom Five, underground cult act Clutch are back with the release of their ninth full-length album, Strange Cousins From The West. Described by the band themselves as the next logical progression from the psychedelic blues sounds of their last studio release, and sure enough, the album is indeed a shift in direction, but still primarily very much the sound of Clutch that we’ve come to expect throughout the years.
The opening track “Motherless Child” is something a little different sounding from the band, and it’s more a case of what’s missing than what’s added that makes the difference. With the absence of organist Mick Schauer (who played on both Robot Hive/Exodus and From Beale Street To Oblivion), Clutch (who comprise of vocalist/guitarist Neil Fallon, guitarist Tim Sult, bassist Dan Maines and drummer Jean-Paul Gaster) have taken a step back to their basic four-piece rock sound, but added deep south blues influence within the slide guitar work and overall feel.
Both “Struck Down” and “Let A Poor Man Be” are fairly straight-forward sounding rocks with a strong blues influence. But what’s notable about the said tracks is just how much Clutch have stripped back the songs to their fundamental basics compared to their last couple of albums, with Sult’s simplistic (yet highly effective) guitar riffs and extended solo work and Fallon’s booming Southern tinged voice full of his trademark absurd lyrical observations being the obvious driving forces within the band’s core sound.
The first single “50,000 Unstoppable Watts,” “Minotaur,” “Witchdoctor” and the energetic “Freakonomics” are definite high moments on the album, and seemed to be primarily written to be played in front of a live crowd, while the band’s cover of Pappo’s Blues’ “Algo Ha Cambiado” (‘Something Has Changed’ - 1971) is a somewhat obscure and unusual addition to the album (especially given that it’s all sung in Spanish), but definitely fits within the other up-tempo rockers on the album.
Providing a bit of a slower and more pronounced blues feel is the dramatic “Abraham Lincoln” and the effortlessly swinging “The Amazing Kreskin,” both of which could have slotted onto earlier Clutch releases barring the blues influence.
When I found out that Schauer was no longer a member of Clutch, I was a little disappointed, especially given how fantastic both Robot Hive/Exodus and From Beale Street To Oblivion were, but after hearing Strange Cousins From The West, Clutch have more than managed to adjust to being a four-piece act, and have come up with yet again another first class rock album.