music / Columns

Jam Central Station: Clutch – Book Of Bad Decisions

September 1, 2018 | Posted by Jeff Modzelewski


There aren’t too many bands out there with the consistency of Clutch. Over the course of 12 studio albums and more than 25 years, this band has done nothing but put out excellent rock and roll time and time again. They’ve certainly evolved over the years, starting out with a significant hardcore edge, before moving through progressive rock, jam, blues, and now settling in to a groove that brings back classic rock and roll roots with a distinct modern edge. Over that time they’ve done nothing that would cause them to lose fans, despite taking chances on a regular basis. Their upcoming Book of Bad Decisions release is another in a long string of excellent records from a band that just continues to get stronger.

The band had worked with produce Machine for their previous two releases, which marked a return to straightforward riff-based rock after a pair very blues-heavy sessions. Instead of going back to that well again, they brought in Vance Powell (Chris Stapleton, Jack White, Arctic Monkeys) to helm this one. Clutch doesn’t seem like a band that needs a producer, with the success they’ve had and their trademark sound, but I think they benefit on this album by bringing in a new perspective. The band is still doing what they do best on this album, but the sound is tweaked just enough to set this new release apart and again keep the band from getting at all stale.

The quality and energy on the album is apparent from track 1 on. “Gimme The Keys” has the type of vocal work and start/stop feel that could easily have been Blast Tyrant or Robot Hive/Exodus but feels right at home over a decade after those releases. JP leads the track with his trademark rhythms on the toms while Tim Sultthrows down great riffs with an excellent tone. “Spirit of ’76” has a definite blues feel with the lead guitar, but the rhythm is straight power-riff, and the bass subtly plays around behind it all, keeping the ear tuned in. The title track follows, and is an easy contender for best track on the album, maybe best track they’ve released in a long time. From the slightly creepy tone at the beginning to the bass work (an underappreciated aspect of this band) to just how tight they are, this is Clutch at their best. After years of playing around with odd time signatures and unanticipated changes, this is a song that shows that the end result of all that work is the ability to absolutely nail a song. And, while this is not a band known for their guitar solos, Sult lays two excellent ones down on this track.

“How To Shake Hands” I think is a track that exemplifies the personality of this band. Neil’s ability to take the topic of him running for President and absolutely committing to the theme is something that only Clutch could truly pull off. It’s tongue-in-cheek humor, but by the end of the song you want to vote for the guy who will “put Jimi Hendrix on the $20 bill and Bill Hicks on the five note.” You can dance to this tune, you can mosh to this tune, but you’re gonna move to this one. They brought in some horns to fill out “In Walks Barbarella,” and Clutch shows that they could’ve been a 70’s funk band if they really put their mind to it. Instead it’s just another example of how versatile these guys are. They keep this throwback feel for “Vision Quest,” this one led by piano instead of horns. It’s almost as if “Great Balls of Fire” were brought into the modern age. No massive guitar riffs on this one, just a great, consistent guitar tone.

The next chunk of the album goes back to the slightly dark, slightly out-of-the-box, and all-out rocking that Clutch does. “Weird Times” just so quick and so heavy that it’ll blow your hair back. “Emily Dickenson” marks the halfway point on the album, and slows things down into their not-quite-stoner rock that they can sometimes dive into. “Sonic Counselor” sounds like a continuation of a track from their “From Beale Street to Oblivion” album, and “A Good Fire” is another one of the best rockers they’ve released. The fuzzy bass leads that one off and continues throughout, while the song just sounds like a ball of pent-up energy waiting to be released. The bridge on the riff, sounding like something that could have been a holdover from Elephant Riders, just adds to that tension.

“Ghoul Wrangler” and “H.B. is in Control” both carry the Clutch style that is hard to explain but easy to recognize when you hear it. Unique riff construction throughout and Neil adding his gravelly vocals and storytelling overtop. “Hot Bottom Feeder” is again the band doing something only they could pull off. Slide guitar and fuzzy riffs underneath Neil singing about making crab cakes. Given their Maryland heritage it makes sense. “Paper and Strife” has the choppy guitar riffs again, and, album closer “Lorelei” closes the album out with a slower but very dense and powerful track. The only really slow, dark track on the album, but a nice closer.

It’s hard to find fault on this album, with 15 standout tracks of various styles. Honestly they probably could have easily released 9 tracks and saved 6 for a second album, but with so much good material I can’t fault them for wanting to get it all out. It sounds a little repetitive near the middle, and maybe would have benefited from a couple change-of-pace tunes like “Lorelei” scattered throughout, but I can’t fault the songs themselves. There’s a reason that, if you go to a Clutch show, you’ll see shirts ranging from The Grateful Dead to Cannibal Corpse. They have the chops to appeal to just about everyone, and they rarely fall short of the very high bar they’ve set for themselves over the years. Book of Bad Decisions shows that, after more than a quarter century, there’s no reason to believe Clutch is even close to slowing down.



Dickey Betts suffers a mild stroke, cancels shows
Dickey Betts first tour in years has been unfortunately plagued by cancellations and questionable performances from the legendary former member of the Allman brothers. Betts hit another roadblock after suffering from what was termed as a “minor stroke” earlier this week, forcing him to cancel his remaining August dates. He has been doing very well since the stroke, and is still expected to return to the road in November.

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass announces lineup
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass continues to have amazing lineups for their annual free festival in San Francisco. This year’s festival will feature Alison Krauss, Del McCoury Band, Ween, Jeff Tweedy, Ani Difranco, Mavis Staples, Trampled by Turtles, and dozens of other great bands.

Aqueous announce album
Aqueous will release Color Wheel on October 12. The album is the follow up to 2014’s Cycles, and their first since their recent growth in popularity.



Waterloo Festival
September 7-9
Carson Creek Ranch
Austin, TX
The String Cheese Incident (3 nights), Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Otiel & Friends, Railroad Earth, Leftover Salmon, The Motet, Boombox, TAUK, Marco Benevento

Colorado Kind Festival
September 14-15
Planet Bluegrass
Lyons, CO
The String Cheese Incident, The Motet, Yonder Mountain String Band, The Drunken Hearts,

FreshGrass Festival
September 14-16
North Adams, MA
Trampled By Turtles, Yonder Mountain String Band, Indigo Girls, Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, Steep Canyon Rangers

The Festy Experience
October 5-7
Arrington, VA
Greensky Bluegrass, Gillian Welch, Railroad Earth, Sam Bush Band, Billy Strings, Della Mae, Fruition, Carbon Leaf, Bonnie Paine, The Lil’ Smokies

Hillberry Music Festival
October 11-14
Railroad Earth, Trampled By Turtles, Sam Bush, Lettuce, The Wood Brothers, The Infamous Stringdusters, Billy Strings, Split Lip Rayfield

Suwannee Hulaween
October 25-28
Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park
Live Oak, FL
The String Cheese Incident, Jamiroquai, Odesza, The Revivalists, STS9, Lettuce, Trampled by Turtles, Medeski, Martin, & Wood, Galactic, Turkuaz, The Wood Brothers, Yonder Mountain String Band, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead

Hangtown Music Festival
October 25-28
Placerville, CA
Railroad Earth (3 Nights), The Claypool Lennon Delirium, Trampled By Turtles, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe presents Eat a Bunch of Peaches, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, The Infamous Stringdusters, Billy Strings, Pimps of Joytime

Strings & Sol
December 7-11
Puerto Morelos, MX
Yonder Mountain String Band, Greensky Bluegrass, Railroad Earth, The Infamous Stringdusters, Leftover Salmon

December 12-16
Puerto Morelos, MX
The Disco Biscuits, STS9, Umphrey’s McGee, Lotus, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, Ghost Light

Winter Wondergrass Vermont
December 14-16
Stratton, VT

Tropical Throe.down
January 10-14
Runaway Bay, Jamaica
moe., The New Mastersounds, Big Something

Jam in the Sand
January 15-19
Runaway Bay, Jamaica
Dark Star Orchestra, The Wailers, Green Leaf Rustlers

International Incident
January 25-28
Runaway Bay, Jamaica
The String Cheese Incident, Keller Williams

Panic en la Playa Ocho
January 25-29
Riviera Maya, Mexico

Winter Wondergrass Colorado
February 22-24
Steamboat Springs, CO

Winter Wondergrass California
March 29-31
Squaw Valley, CA

Bender Jamboree
April 11-14
Plaza Hotel & Casino
Las Vegas, NV
Greensky Bluegrass, Railroad Earth, The Infamous Stringdusters, Leftover Salmon, Keller Williams, Billy Strings


Thanks again for stopping by. I’ll be back next week with more jam. Until then, check me out on Facebook and Twitter for up to the minute concert announcements. Until next week, Jam On!