Perhaps one of the most interesting things to watch over the course of Clutch's career has been the transformation band frontman Neil Fallon has undergone. Starting as a deranged backwoods weirdo and having since grown into what could be described as an honored hellbilly preacher, his commanding vocals and ever surly cadence set much of the course taken on "Strange Cousins From The West".
Like 2007's "From Beale Street To Oblivion", this album once again draws heavily from the bands blues repertoire. But while doing so it also recaptures a bit more of the soulful rock n' roll and groove laden early 70's funk that permeated the bands sound heavily around the turn of the century. In turn, an inspired collection of songs is offered up with diverse songwriting displayed on a nearly track by track basis. Truly, Clutch's wisdom and maturity has allowed them to age like a fine whisky.
Still, while flush with swagger and a rambunctious demeanor, "Strange Cousins From The West" does feel far more subdued than "Beale Street" and a lot of this seems to come from the lack of outside instrumentation. Harmonicas and Hammonds, while highly complimentary to the bands craft, don't appear here and this leaves a more gritty jam room oriented vibe to take over, capturing the band at their road worn essence.
However, while the groups heart is continually in the right place and the songs take on the catchy and ever colorful grit many have come to expect from them, there's a distinct lack of atmosphere present. Especially when coming off of their last outing which was perhaps their most instrumentally ambitious yet. With "Strange Cousins" one is instead treated to a wealth of gristle and dirt, that while wholly enjoyable, can feel a bit stripped down at times.
No frills Clutch is rarely a bad thing though and the band do retain some of their trademark urgency on faster paced tracks like the plodding "Struck Down" and the fiery rhythmic-led charge of "Freakonomics". The marching dirge of "Abraham Lincoln" also offers some trademark rural weirdness and "Algo Ha Cambiado" even finds Fallon singing in Spanish. It's just that some listeners may not be ready for the band to head back down a bumpy gravel road after their highly enjoyable residency with the bright lights and big sounds of Beale Street.
(4 / 5)