CD REVIEW: A.B. Clyde and the Kitty Litters - Muscle Beach
By Cyrus Rhodes - 08/18/2015 - 06:31 PM EDT
Artist: Band: A.B. Clyde and the Kitty Litters
Album: Muscle Beach
Sounds Like: Jimmy Buffett, Zak Brown Band, Jerry Jeff Walker
Technical Grade: 9/10
Production/Musicianship Grade: 9/10
Commercial Value: 9/10
Overall Talent Level: 9/10
Songwriting Skills: 9/10
Performance Skill: 9/10
Best Songs: Drinking in the Dark, Billy Blaine
A.B. Clyde and the Kitty Litters likely had some serious questions facing them when they entered the studio to record Muscle Beach. The successor to their first album Smokin' Catnip needed to build on the ample strengths of that first release without ever seeming like an empty imitation. The fundamentals that drove the debut's success are accounted for here and form the album's foundational strength and, regardless whether listeners find him funny or appreciate his subject matter, all but the delusion would admit Clyde and his cohorts understand what constitutes a study, entertaining song. The songwriting on his sophomore feels more fleshed out and the narrative style characterizing his best material is stronger here than on its predecessor.
The opener is a good example of that. In lesser hands, "Bulldozin' Bad Memories" would have been a flat-footed novelty song with a one-joke premise, but Clyde's humor is perceptive enough to exploit every detail. The chorus, like a great punch line, gives the song a superb climatic effect. "Nashville Girls" has a laid-back, honkytonk vibe and the inclusion of traditional country music elements like a steel guitar strengthens that association. The song appears to be nothing but a half-humorous, rueful reflection on a character's inability to score with the women, but there's a discreet ache in the center of this track that's hard to miss. "Why Won't You Make Love" is another track taking its cues from traditional country albums, but warm and precise production gives it a modern edge. The track's slow musical unfolding and deliberate pace are reminiscent of great traditional country ballads while avoiding the schlock characterizing the weaker efforts of that school.
"Wish I Was in Paris" deals with sexual subject matter in an unusually stylish way, but no matter how you slice it, this is a song about lust. It proves that songs in this vein never need to be over-the-top and obvious to convey their message and, if anything, gain from a bit of understatement. The time signature is perfect for the song as its looping sway unexpectedly approximates fantasy's dreamy swing. "Drinkin' in the Dark" will impress many for it brave 180-degree turn into more serious subject matter, but there's a lot of impressive things going on in the song. The band stretches out some here and their careful pacing milks every ounce of drama from the arrangement. Clyde's breathless, at times despairing, vocal is ideal for the song. Clyde and the band continue their positive momentum with the title track, another musically dramatic song subverting traditional songwriting formulas and subject matter. Clyde, undoubtedly, enjoys provoking a good laugh from his listeners, but it's equally clear that he delights in populating his songs with interesting and never static characters. There's no song on Muscle Beach where that is more important than "Billy Blaine". Clyde shows an impressively consistent vision creating another narrative about heartbroken lovers looking for revenge, but it's imbued with an added pathos that elevates beyond the realm of facile entertainment. The band discharges one of their best performances, resolutely free from flash, and melodically rich.
"Bowling in London" turns on sparkling piano melodies that highlight an otherwise pure entertainment, but the song's surprisingly jazzy inflections and lean musical economy are likewise important to its appeal. The fleet-footed sweep of "Railroad Buddies" disguises the true meaning of another track that, like "Drinkin' in the Dark" and "Billy Blaine" before, is heavy with implied and stated pathos. A.B. Clyde and the Kitty Litters close the album with "Outside", another folk/country hybrid with romanticized imagery of youth. The hidden contexts heard in earlier songs isn't as strong here, but it's clear that the song comes from a deep place within him and expertly makes the familiar universal.
Muscle Beach is one of 2015's most memorable releases. Its singular mix of humor, intelligence, empathy, and skill sets it apart from lesser lights and its supremely entertaining presentation will please many.
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