CD Reviews

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Pure Rock Fury Clutch Atlantic Rating: 1 1/2

OK, kids, put on your thinking caps. Today’s lesson is on Pure Rock Fury.

Pure: raw, unaffected, unrefined; to deliver edge and emotion in its basic and most primitive form.

Rock: characterized by a strong beat and repetition of simple phrases.

Fury: unrestrained anger, rage, passion; as in The Sound and The Fury.

However you choose define it, Clutch embodies the concept of Pure Rock Fury. Unfortunately, this is not a compliment.

This fearsome foursome, comprised of high-school buddies turned bandmates Neil Fallon, Tim Sult, Dan Maines and Jean Paul Gaster, pack a mean musical punch in its latest Atlantic album.

On an effort overdriven by musical malaise and meaningless noise, the word that comes to mind (after pure, rock and fury, of course) is “abrasive.” Bleeding vocals. Blaring guitar. It’s hard to distinguish the mess from the music. Clutch only proves that noise does not necessarily equal talent.

File them just after Black Sabbath and just before Coal Chamber in your heavy metal shop.

Here’s the part where I insert my disclaimer. Clutch’s sound is certainly not for the squeamish, and maybe that makes me prejudiced. The album’s final track, “Spacegrass,” hints at a band that might be incredible live. And I must admit there’s something unintentionally amusing about the group’s lyrics. Still, this album seems to lack an overall sense of power and purpose.

After all, if you’re gonna rock, rock loud, rock hard and rock for a reason.

Unwind Oleander Universal Rating: 2

The title of Oleander’s second major-label album, Unwind, is somewhat deceiving. The energetic punk-pop-metal sound is not exactly the kind of music that makes you want to kick back and relax.

Like the band’s name, taken from a delicate but poisonous wildflower, Oleander is not what it appears to be.

Then again, maybe it is.

Unwind gets off to a promising start. Lead singer Thomas Flowers comes out with more edge and emotion than displayed in the group’s February Son days. Songs like “Come to Stay” and “Are You There?” are worship-worthy rock tunes that jump into your head and refuse to jump out.

But Unwind makes the mistake of telling all its secrets too soon. On an album with little experimentation, eclecticism, or eccentricity, it’s easy to sense that all the band’s best tricks appear in the first five tracks. Soon, catchiness turns to complacency and every song ends up sounding like every other. If you haven’t lost interest around track eight, chances are you’re not really listening.

In the end, you’re left with a pool of sonic mush hardly worth jumping into. And while Unwind it not really a bad album, it’s not exactly a great one either.

Turn up the volume for “Are You There”and “Halo.” Otherwise, turn it off.

Straight Down RainGreg TrooperEminentRating: 3

Songwriter Greg Trooper suffers from, among other things, indecisiveness.

It’s a fact clearly evidenced by his eclectic album, Straight Down Rain. The collection opens with a track that could easily be jumbled among any respectable Bob Dylan anthology. The album is hardly noteworthy, until you listen to track two, “Staring Down the Night,” a sharply contrasting alternative number that carries a techno-influenced beat. And then there’s track three, “Real Like That,” a round ?em up honky-tonk bar blues ballad.

And so it goes, through the rest of the album, as Trooper jumps unflinchingly from rock to folk to alt-country to creative blendings of each. All of Straight Down Rain, in fact, seems to be a practice in musical extremes.

It’s a technique that has both its ups and its downs. While the album is full of surprises, chances are you won’t fall in love with each and every one of Trooper’s songs. This point of peril is particularly noteworthy for those who profess to hate country music.

Yes, that’s right. There’s plenty of country. Even before checking the album credits, it’s clear Trooper is as Nashville as rhinestones, fringe and cowboy boots. Fortunately, his roots show more in his structure?the seamless lyrical organization, the story-songs, the punchline hooks?than a twangy country style.

A veteran songwriter, Trooper is clearly a man who has learned to master his craft. He employs a wide array of arranging techniques and instrumentation on this set of recordings. “Doghouse” brings in a brass section, including a trombone and tuba; “I’m Dreaming” uses a penny-whistle, an accordion and a melodica; a cello and Hammond organ give “Staring Down the Night” its eerie feel.

The result of this work is an album which is polished without feeling over-packaged.

Greg Trooper proves that sometimes indecisiveness isn’t such a bad thing.

Jimmy’s First KissJimmy’s First Kiss Local

There are two things I love about BlueKats Coffee Shop. One is the amazing Chai Tea. The other is the live music.

It was here I was first introduced to Jimmy’s First Kiss. I was relaxing, enjoying a hot chocolate and conversation when the band’s frontman, Dave Tate, took the stage. I was impressed by his agile guitar skills, his inventive songwriting, and his unique voice. Later, I stumbled across his CD.

I know what you’re thinking: Another coffee-house-lovin?, acoustic folkie-freak album, right? Wrong. Jimmy’s First Kiss, is a full five-piece outfit which serves a healthy dollop of punk, funk, folk, ska and jazz atop of a steaming base of solid rock. If Tate is the coffee of Jimmy’s First Kiss, then the rest of the band is the sugar and cream.

The album seems to be a crusade against the three-minute song. It runs over 71 minutes, with the average track lasting 5:21. (Yes, I did the math myself.) Within these parameters, there is plenty of room for experimentation. And, oh yeah, plenty of two-minute intros.

Those suffering from attention deficit disorder (you know who you are) might want to give this album some time. Luckily there are plenty of contrasts within the work to maintain its momentum.

The opening track, “Fixing a Hole in the Sun,” for example, moves from an understated electric riff to an explosive sax chorus to hushed melodic vocals and back again. The stunning guitar work in “Breathe” is complimented by the melodic and driving instrumental work of Ryan Eberhard and Marco Blackmore. It’s exemplary of an album that’s full of creativity and contrast.

While the careful balance between blended styles is at times overshadowed by the group’s obvious ska influences, its flexibility manages to keep this sometimes drawn-out album sustained. And the often quirky lyrics are a nice break from your standard teen-angst fare.

My recommendation? Go to BlueKats. Enjoy the Chai Tea and Jimmy’s First Kiss.