Clay Ross - Matuto CD

Clay Ross offers a bold selection of guitar prowess and excellent song-writing in “Matuto.”

The tracks in Clay Ross's "Matuto" present a sonically daring palate that features interesting musical instrumentation and a dramatic sensibility.  Ross' accomplished work on guitar ventures from precise and polished to wild and frenetic.  The songs written for this album are varied in mood, tone and delivery.  Certain songs are wistful guitar workouts fit for campfire adulation, while others are moody, dark and complex.  This duplicity shows Ross pulling from lots of different traditions in crafting the songs for this album.  Ross has a full band for this recording and the flute work of Itai Kriss and the fiddle of Rob Hecht are particularly noteworthy.  The contributions of these two instruments mesh with Ross' distinctive guitar work in excellent fashion, resulting in many of the more successful moments of the album.

The unusual and savory stew of "Matuto" begins with "Recife" as guitar, fiddle and flute all blend in an alternately frantic then soothing mash.  "What A Day" incorporates a loose Caribbean groove and saunters along on the strength of playful lyrics (tongue in cheek reference to Jack Bauer of 24 for instance) and solid guitar work.  The song materializes into a sonic little guitar workout spiced with drums, flutes, and all sorts of exotic sounds.  "Remember Calabash" begins with melodic violin and nice grooves, and Ross accentuates the body of the song with his crystalline guitar.  The song marches forward to its enthusiastic conclusion on the strength of Itai Kriss' flute and Ross' guitar.  "Banks of the Ohio," with jaunting accordion lopes along sweetly and innocently until the details of a jilted love and murder come clear, casting the light hearted tempo and timbre of the song in ironic light.

"Zydaco Mondo" begins with majestic flute and Ross' remarkable guitar, which seems infused with equal doses of precise genius and skittering flamenco wild man in this particular track.  The track closes with lilting flute work that is quite excellent.  "Church Street Blues" depicts a homesick musician lost in the city, playing for pocket change in pursuit of greater fortune.  Ross illuminates "Home Sweet Home" with enthusiastic flourishes on the fret board, yet wails like a possessed Delta blues man for the haunting classic "John the Revelator."  "Dream of Life" seems like distorted lounge music from some David Lynch film, with a quality that is reminiscent of Jimbo Mathus and the Squirrel Nut Zippers.  The sparsely populated "Feel, Like A Song" closes the album.

In discussing "Matuto" as a whole, I am very impressed with Clay Ross' guitar work and his daring sense of composition.  This album has lots of different personalities and features interesting and original instrumentation.  As a lover of movies, I hear lots of cinematic value in these evocative tracks.  Reviewing this album for HGMN was my first exposure to Clay Ross, but it definitely proved to be an eye-opening one.  He wears the hat of the possessed Delta blues man in "John the Revelator" yet shows absolute precision and clarity with his guitar work in the more thoughtful tracks of the album as well.  There is a sophistication and exotic beauty, complemented with robust musical chops and wildness that makes "Matuto" a compelling, interesting album.

- by J. Evan Wade

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