Sound: Expanding on the sound they created originally developed 10 years ago, The Bakerton Group is back to deliver a solid set of experimental, bluesy, and somewhat spacey instrumentals. Guitarists Tim Sult and Neil Fallon, bassist Dan Maines, and drummer Jean-Paul Gaster's latest album El Rojo once again touches on their roots - namely the ones they established in their other project, Clutch - but the creativity has grown tenfold. There are still the integral stoner rock/blues/jam sounds present and those often are the most satisfying tunes, but The Bakerton Group has obviously tapped into other influences that come through strongly on El Rojo.
With 10 songs that are all instrumental (excluding a brief moment in The Gigantomakhia where you hear incomprehensible utterings), El Rojo has enough diversity to keep the attention of even someone who craves vocals. It all comes down to the chemistry between the bandmates, which has obviously been perfected since they originally formed Clutch in 1990. There's a variety of tempo changes, guitar effects, and overall arrangement choices. The Bakerton Group isn't just laying down a track that mimics a spontaneous jam session. Rather, they take their time in choosing what instrument(s) will carry the most weight, and it does seem clear that they had their pick of the litter equipment-wise.
The band is at it's most infectious when delivering a blues or funk-based track. Chancellor, The Gigantomakhia, and M.(f).H.S. contain groove-oriented guitar work, with the bass line always guiding the way. The Allman Brothers Band (the old school blues variety) comes to mind at many places during the CD, but The Bakerton Group takes everything a few notches in terms of experimentation. That usually means that Sult and Fallon are trying out some wacky effects device that might not be the traditionally used blues pedals, and it all makes for a nice contrast to the usual jam band sound.
Bien Clasico is slightly more laid back, and there's almost a Spanish vibe to the phrasing and arrangement. In that particular track, the band also opted to include a vibrant horn section that gives Bien Clasico an even more unusual sound that, in certain moments, loses the whole Spanish vibe altogether. Another standout is Life On Lars, a track that probably was a result of a lot of time in the studio. Between the section that features a robotic-sounding guitar to the moments where the song seems to have been streamed backwards, it's definitely one of the most trippy offerings on El Rojo.
The organ/synth comes through heavily in many of the tracks, and interestingly enough it is Opeth's Per Wiberg in charge of those duties. The opening track is a beautiful showcase of Wiberg's blues-oriented talents, while Work 'Em features what sounds like a string section - perhaps the result of some other synth experimentation. There's an abundance of layers in each track, and overall the arrangements are pretty awe-inspiring. // 9
Lyrics: N/A // 10
Overall Impression: Even if you're not a fan of instrumental artists like Steve Vai or Joe Satriani, you might want to still give The Bakerton Group a listen. Yes, there are times when you might hear a little of Satriani's influence in the mix and solos are indeed showcased, but El Rojo is truly a band creation. There is so much going on with each instrument, and they all work together for the good of the song. Some might call Clutch or The Bakerton Group stoner rock (and there are some trippy moments to be sure), but this is one case where they are reaching way beyond any one genre. // 9