El Rojo – The Bakerton Group
Ever wonder what Clutch would sound like minus the broadly-drawn lysergic tales of elephants, monster trucks, shoguns and hardcore rockin’ vegans? You get your answer with the instrumental El Rojo, the third release by the Bakerton Group, a side project of Clutch members Tim Sult, Jean-Paul Gaster, Dan Maines and Neil Fallon. Per Wiberg of Opeth handles keyboard duties, becoming the album’s MVP, giving songs like “Chancellor” and “Peruvian Airspace” depth and support.
At its core, the album has the flavor of working out some new tunes in the Jam Room, but the concise arrangements and attention to detail give the impression that there’s much more going on here than the early formations of songs. What you experience is the maturity of a group of musicians who have never strayed too far from their roots Sabbath/Zeppelin hard rock, funk/go-go beats and punk. (The last several releases added a stronger blues presence.) Along the way their sound was embraced by the stoner-rock scene, but the quartet has shown that it has much more to offer than a soundtrack for a night of toking and Doritos. You can hear the growth from the Bakerton Group’s 1999 Space Guitars EP.
While El Rojo doesn’t stray very far from Clutch’s core sound, the main thrust of the Bakerton Group persona allows them to pursue a musical agenda that’s laced with elements of simmering rock, funk, blues, jazz and psychedelia. Initially, it’s a little disconcerting to hear the opening tracks “Time Horizon,” “Chancellor” and “Peruvian Airspace ” without Fallon’s whiskey-soaked growl chiming in. While there’s a kinship to the mothership, the yearning for vocals diminishes as one allows himself to get lost in the grooves, in the guitar, bass and drums playing as one massive adrenaline rush of power chords, B-3 organ that grounds a guitar-driven adventure in the desert and a dose of go-go that makes sure that once the music has freed your mind it’s time for your ass to follow. At peace with what’s going on, the other seven tracks buzz by as they expand the dimensions of their musical palette.
A touch of Latin mixes with Maceo Parker funk on “Bien Clasico” while “Life On Lars” presents a swirling Indian feel. The material returns slightly to more familiar ground on “The Gigantomakhia” then spits out the hypnotic psychedelic math rock of “Work Em” and the aural vision of a jam session between Page, Bonham and Jones on “Last Orbit.” At this point, I’m sucked in to the waves of sound and I can’t get out. And I don’t care to leave.