The Bakerton Group - El Rojo
Record Label: Weathermaker Music
Release Date: February 17, 2009
El Rojo, the newest release from The Bakerton Group, is a record that oscillates between good and bad, and left me unsure of whether I liked it more than I disliked it or vice versa. The Bakerton Group are “the psychedelic instrumental jazz-laden alter ego” of the rock band Clutch. Comprised of Tim Sult on guitar, Jean-Paul Gaster on drums, Dan Maines on bass, and Neil Fallon on guitar, they receive some additional aid from Per Wiberg of Opeth on piano, synthesizer, and keys. Also making cameos on two songs is the musician Raven who plays the alto saxophone. This side project sees the men of Clutch delving into a whole new territory of experimentation that just doesn’t turn out to be as exciting as the description suggests.
Not a single song is completely awful on this release, but only four out of the ten tracks are what can be called entirely successful. The other six selections waver back and forth between interesting and boring, or memorable and forgettable. However, each song does have at least one high point that can perk the listener’s ears up and get that foot tapping. The problem, though, is that they tend to either take too long to reach or go by too fast.
Not suffering from the aforementioned dilemma are the album’s first two tracks. “Time Horizon” is an excellent opener with aggressive drumming, impressive guitar riffs, fantastic solos, and interesting work on the synthesizer to round things out. This song reminds me the most of Clutch’s work while still being different enough to not really fit comfortably anywhere in their catalog. Next is “Chancellor,” which sees the band really experimenting and completely assuming the identity of The Bakerton Group. Grooving bass lines and intriguing guitar effects permeate the song’s slower tempo before they kick things up a notch around the three minute mark with impressive work on the drums and keys. The success soon peters out, though, with “Peruvian Airspace.” Featuring some funky guitar work and a cowbell, the song starts out promising but fizzles off into a jam session that just fails to inspire another listen.
“Bien Clasico” is the first track on the record to give off that jazz feel. However, it only does so in certain parts, and those certain parts (the first at about 45 seconds in and the latter towards the end) just happen to be the high points of this song. Raven’s work on the saxophone is impressive, but when he isn’t playing, the band struggles to deliver anything memorable. The lackluster “Life on Lars” is next in line, and it makes the listener wait until just before the four minute mark before something worthwhile happens. “M.(F).H.S.” is consistently fantastic throughout, with a strong opening and amusing guitar work. Gaster provides a tight drum beat that drives the song from the get-go, as the contributions from every member coalesce to deliver a very commendable final product.
Having to follow such an outstanding song is no easy task, and “The Gigantomakhia” is a case in point. Overall, the song is just unduly repetitive and leaves much to be desired, especially once it enters its third minute. “Work ‘Em” is also redundant throughout until about three minutes in, where Fallon (the vocalist for Clutch) bursts out into an impromptu display of his singing talent. This point is where the song reaches its peak and steadily declines thereafter, reaching its lowest point at 5:45. Other than featuring some striking guitar work from 2:15 to 3:00, “Last Orbit” is stale-sounding and leaves the listener doubting whether or not the record will finish strong. Fortunately, it does. “Bill Proger’s Galaxy” sees the return of the saxophone and provides a beat that sounds like it could find a home on any jazz radio station. It has a mellow feel that lasts up until about the 2:45 mark where the pace picks up and it becomes a successful rock track. Ultimately, the song fades out gracefully with Raven uttering one last note on the saxophone before El Rojo reaches its conclusion.
This record and band are an experiment for the guys in Clutch, and just like any other experiments ever performed, they have their share of ups and downs. What should be noted, though, is that The Bakerton Group display their talent quite consistently over the course of El Rojo. The problem is that there are just too many instances where that talent lacks the ability to hook the listener. Regardless, they do deserve praise for their accomplishments on “Time Horizon, “Chancellor”, “M.(F).H.S.”, and “Bill Proger’s Galaxy.” As a whole, El Rojo may not get a whole lot of playtime in my rotation but it still has me excited to see what these guys do next with both The Bakerton Group and Clutch.