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Published: 2013/09/14
by Sam Robertson

Todd Clouser
Man with No Country

Amulet Records

Todd Clouser hinted at a unique ability to tear down the walls between jazz and rock with 20th Century Folksongs, his first of what is now a trio of albums on Marco Benevento’s Royal Potato Family label. He covered a selection of familiar folk and rock standards on 20th Century Folksongs, fleshing them out with jazzy, instrumental muscle. On his brand new effort, Man With No Country, Clouser fluently adds vocals to his sharp, jazzy guitar playing, destroying any remaining genre barriers. Man With No Country is the album Clouser has steadily worked towards, as the vocals that first appeared on his last album are significantly refined, while his approach to rock songwriting is positively liberating.

Perhaps a clever bit of foreshadowing, opener “Never” finds Clouser’s vocals entering the mix before his guitar. For a relative novice singer, his voice is impressively soulful and expressive, with a slightly nervous edge similar to Tom Verlaine of Television. Traces of Tom Verlaine’s guitar mastery also shine through with plenty of aggressive, jagged playing on Man With No Country. On 20th Century Folksongs, Clouser covered Nirvana, Pearl Jam and the Velvet Underground, so it should come as little shock that his original material shares a raucous, heavy garage edge.

It is truly astonishing how quickly and flawlessly Todd Clouser transitioned from instrumental jazz guitarist to rock frontman, as Man With No Country is littered with not only snarling rockers but also surprisingly effective tender ballads. His touching vocals and Steven Bernstein’s restrained trumpet playing accent the delicate “How To Trust a Lover,” while the next song, “Mighty Bird,” is a strutting piece of a funk. Although this is Clouser’s first album without his band A Love Electric, he still surrounds himself with talented jazz musicians, including Bernstein and Medeski, Martin & Wood drummer Billy Martin, who play with a risky, turn on a dime approach that fuels the groovy shuffle of “Mighty Bird.”

While Man With No Country is first and foremost a rock album, traces of Clouser’s avant-garde jazz background slip into nearly every song, even the most straightforward rockers. His guitar explodes with a Nels Cline-like frantic barrage of notes on the catchy title track, while a soaring, bluesy solo on “Never” provides a dose of vintage Cream-era Clapton. On the album’s more experimental moments, his playing is even more exceptional, particularly the stunningly fierce and noisy guitar climax on “Eyes For You” and the jarring dissonance of “Pocket Full of Bones.” As an instrumental guitarist for most of his young career, Todd Clouser is more than adept at using his guitar as a creative voice, and now bolsters his outstanding playing with strong singing and songwriting, making his latest foray into rock a remarkable triumph.

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