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Getting a Grip

The members of Clutch have been jammed into neutral since early summer, and you can't help but sympathize with their plight: The band's been waiting months for its third CD to surface in stores. Now, it looks like they'll wait some more. Atlantic has decided to postpone the CD's release until 1998 so it's not dwarfed by this fall's big-name competition.

The new disc, tentatively titled The Elephant Riders, is Clutch's first outing for Atlantic, which signed the group after it was unceremoniously dropped from Elektra's roster. For their part, Clutch has always felt that if they had placed their fate in the right hands from the beginning, they would be as big as some of their groove-metal brethren by now -- maybe even as big as Pantera.

Time will tell if Atlantic will indeed be the right label for Clutch. Either way, the band is damn proud of The Elephant Riders. The new disc was recorded in three segments at three different locales (the band's rented home in West Virginia, and Electric Ladyland and Manhattan Center studios in New York). The New York sessions were produced by Jack Douglas, a classic rock warhorse known for his work with the pre-sober Aerosmith. Still, the result hardly sounds retro -- the iron-willed Baltimore-based quartet made sure of that. In fact, The Elephant Riders continues Clutch's survey of unconventional musical territory. It rocks hard, yet with a complexity that is enlightening. And its songs are Clutch's most fully realized to date. The band members themselves describe their new direction as "Rush meets Bad Brains."

Clutch debuted nationally back in 1993 with Transnational Speedway League, purposefully setting their sights on a breakthrough release with Clutch, their self-titled follow-up. As a sort of compromise, the band moved away from the more straight-ahead grind-metal sound of the first CD toward a more eerie, bass-heavy approach that distanced them from the standard head-banger ilk. The group's lyrical ideas were comparably offbeat. "I Have the Body of John Wilkes Booth" was inspired by press reports disputing the whereabouts of the legendary assassin's remains. "Escape from Prison Planet" is filled with nonsensical references to everything from Atlantis to Planet of the Apes.

The themes on The Elephant Riders continue along those strange lines. "Ship of Gold" adopts the perspective of an old man visualizing the events leading to his inevitable death. "The Package" takes on (inventor and scientist) Nikola Tesla and the Freemasons (huh?). And while Clutch's thinking may be left of center, its live attack is always bruising and dead-on, the raw physical manifestation, perhaps, of the group's oddball creative catharsis.

-- Alan Sculley

Clutch performs Friday, October 11, at the Abyss, 5913 Washington Avenue. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10. Tree and Given open. For info, call 863-7173.

Bobby "Blue" Bland -- Suppose there were a Mount Rushmore for modern blues luminaries. Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and B.B. King would be up there. And so would Bobby "Blue" Bland, whose soulful baritone represents the very highest level of idiomatic sophistication and style. Approaching his 68th birthday -- and a few years past coronary bypass surgery -- Bland is still going strong with a new release, Live on Beale Street, on the way. Looking back, he's been a consistent source of remarkable music since the 1950s. The Grammy folks know it, recently presenting Bland with a Lifetime Achievement Award and nominating his latest Malaco CD, Sad Street, as one of the year's finest. The blues mavens at the W. C. Handy Awards, in turn, designated Bland their Male Soul/Blues Artist of the Year for 1997, and Living Blues just selected his That Did It! The Duke Recordings, Vol. 3 as Best Blues Album in the historical recording category. That release, part of MCA's retrospective of Bland's recorded output for the Duke label, has lots of stellar blues-cum-soul, indeed. But to hear his spellbinding R&B chart smashes "Farther Up the Road" and "I Pity the Fool," you'll have to scoot back to Vol. 3. Better yet, attend one of Bland's Saturday shows and hope he uses his magic to reinvent those and other classics. At 8 and 10:30 p.m. Saturday, October 11, at Rockefeller's, 3620 Washington Avenue. Tickets are $25 and $32.50. 869-TICS. (Frank-John Hadley)

The El Orbits -- From the two-dollar martinis and free cigars, you might surmise that the El Orbits' regular Monday-night high jinks at the Satellite Lounge are just another run-of-the-mill homage to lounge kitsch. Truth be told, this self-effacing misfit trio is less a celebration of the lounge movement (a trend that has arguably run its course) than a celebration of plain old kitsch. After all, what lounge night that you know offers free bingo -- complete with rotating bingo girls -- and $1.50 Pearl and Pearl Light? And as the evening's entertainment, the El Orbits mix universal cocktail standards such as "Fly Me to the Moon" with musty gems from Sonny Ozuna and the Sunliners and other Texas crooners. A frequent highlight: a campy El Orbits rendering of the Doug Sahm version of the Ink Spots' "The Gypsy." Not exactly glacial, but cool, nonetheless. At 9 p.m. Monday, October 13, at the Fabulous Satellite Lounge, 3616 Washington Avenue. Free. 869-COOL. (Hobart Rowland

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