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CD title - Muscle Beach
by A.B.Clyde and the Kitty Litters
Review by Alonzo Evans
A.B. Clyde Facebook
On CD Baby
CD title - Muscle Beach
by A.B. Clyde and the Kitty Litters
Review by Alonzo Evans
Humor in music isn't as easy unless you're aiming for a novelty song. Novelty songs, one joke affairs usually tied to some part of the current zeitgeist, aren't written with multiple layers or with the hope that they have lasting musical value. However, satire operates under a different set of rules. The best satire works on multiple levels and isn't dated by changing social context. Satire speaks to unalterable, yet absurd, aspects of life common for all of us. AB Clyde's second album, Muscle Beach, shows that Clyde's satirical talents have continued to evolve and grow since the release of Smokin' Catnip. He throws listeners a few outright silly novelty songs into the mix, but largely, Muscle Beach is an impressive mix of the serious and satirical under a common banner.
Clyde's opener, "Bulldozin' Bad Memories", is representative of his talent in two key aspects. It demonstrates his command of narrative songwriting - in miniature form, Clyde gives listeners the classical elements of every story and his ability to sketch out clearly defined characters is quite impressive. His vocal talents enhance the satire. Listening to Clyde's clean baritone half-croon a tale of doomed love and vegetables invests this comparatively light fare with surprising dramatic weight. "Nashville Girls" is a delicious bit of naughty fun complete with rollicking honkytonk piano and steel guitar. These down-on-their-luck story of a loser's vain yearning and willingness to relocate for female companionship is surprisingly low key, but the song still has an entertainingly naughty edge. "Why Won't You Make Love?" marks a turn towards more serious material, but Clyde treats the growing distance between a couple and his narrator's attempts to bridge the gap with a funny and surprisingly endearing touch. Throughout virtually the entire album, the Kitty Litters assume an able, but low-key, supporting role that gives these deceptively simple songs a strong platform from which to succeed.
Despite a couple of blackly comedic lines late in the song, "Drinkin' in the Dark" is a serious and relatively unusual track. It's nominally about a young man sinking fast into alcoholism, but the writing is powerfully suggestive and implies, undoubtedly, many things to many different listeners. Unlike earlier songs, the Kitty Litters aren't content to simply support Clyde's vocal and lyric. They match its intensity with a dramatic arrangement and an unerring instinct for what this song requires to be successful. "Shortenin' Bread" is a surprising choice, but Clyde overcomes its potential obscurity for modern listeners by throwing himself into the song and delivering a great vocal. The band, likewise, turns in another powerful performance in support and the drumming, in particular, gives the song spot-on efficiency.
"Muscle Beach" is one of the album's highlights thanks to its remarkable marriage of vocal and music. Rarely is a mood so crystallized on Muscle Beach as it is on the title track because of the exquisitely timed interplay between Clyde's phrasing and the light percussion. The other musicians deliver performances full of the same eloquent restraint. "I Brake" is a pure novelty tune based around a popular American phrase and operates on that single, but entertaining, level throughout its duration. The dark and potentially violent humor won't appeal to everyone, but it isn't obligated to do so. "Beautiful" teeters between satire and novelty, but Clyde extending the songwriting template in the earlier "Why Won't You Make Love?" keeps it on the right side of the equation and turns it into an amusingly detailed recitation of how nothing (well, virtually) could diminish the speaker's admiration of his loved one's beauty.
"Billy Blaine" is another narrative-driven track and these prove to be the moments when Clyde excels.
This is another high point on an album teeming with them thanks, in part, to another tightly constructed narrative.
Clyde's song is another tale of thwarted love driving someone to revenge and, as so often in real life, his speaker's
efforts result in hollow victories. The band stands out again with a slick, well-oiled performance. "Hooterville" is,
obviously, a novelty song and maybe even a bit of a brave mood in our modern world, but Clyde's vocal sparkles
with mischievous fun and it's difficult to take him seriously. Well, in the song, at least. No word on whether he
really likes hooters as much as we might expect. The last memorable track is "Railroad Buddies", a superbly
understated portrait of alcoholic loneliness set against an impossibly sunny musical performance.
The contrast, lyric, and another fantastic Clyde vocal highlight the song.
9 /10 Stars
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