Took a while for me to get into this one, and that threw me for a loop after the last coupla slabs of immediate, delectable, relentlessly-catchy CLUTCH stoner swamp groove. "Strange Cousins From the West" is an altogether slinkier beast, taut and sparse, with a lot of sinewy funk and dirt-floor blues slithering around the skeletons of these Seventies-shaggy jams. It's got that jammy, off-the-floor vibe of their more recent stuff, but hearkens back a little bit to the "Elephant Riders" era of more obtuse, angular arrangements and subtle, quirky little tempo changes and such.
The flow of this record is awesome, especially the killer first half -- from the frantic slide blues of "Motherless Child" to the doomy dirge of their surprisingly affecting eulogy of Abraham Lincoln, to the head-nodding shuffle of "Struck Down" and the hair-raising guitarwork of "Minotaur" (some nice drum fills here from the ever-reliable J-P Gaster). Vocalist Neil Fallon, usually the ringmaster of an odd assortment of fictional ne'er-do-wells and eccentrics, throws a few curveballs this time, especially with the aforementioned "Abraham Lincoln", as well as the Spanish-language "Algo Ha Cambiado" (a straight-faced cover of 70's Argentinian blues-rockers Pappo's Blues that comes off like a CLUTCH original). But fear not, he still brings to life a whole slew of oddballs, most notably the paranoid conspiracy nut of "50,000 Unstoppable Watts", while getting in a few semi-disguised topical digs as well ("Freakonomics", "The Amazing Kreskin").
The old-timers will ask, already knowing the answer, if CLUTCH has finally gone back to sounding like the angry, abrasive almost-hardcore band they cut their teeth on. Ain't gonna happen, "Impetus" fans, so get over it. As for the rest, they'll find that "Strange Cousins From the West" kinda encapsulates the last few years of CLUTCH evolution, minus some of the jam-band excesses that were beginning to creep in, and ties it all back in nicely to their late-1990's work. A couple songs are merely okay ("Witchdoctor", "Sleestak Lightning"), which may have added to the initial ambivalence about the record as a whole — but with tunes as kickass as "Minotaur", "50,000 Unstoppable Watts" and "Let a Poor Man Be" on board, this record will scratch that particular itch borne by anyone who's gotten into these hard-working roustabouts in the last twelve or thirteen years. It's CLUTCH with an extra dollop of hardscrabble blues, just that little bit more raw and dusty, with the well-worn grooves of a band well into their stride and showing no sign of taking it easy any time soon.