For its third album, guitarist/composer Todd Clouser's A Love Electric was recorded live in a studio in Woodstock. The band is pared down to a trio this time out, with bassist Aaron Cruz and drummer Hernán Hecht returning from 2012's 20th Century Folk Selections. Filling out the proceedings are versatile pianist Dred Scott, a three-piece horn section arranged by trumpeter Steven Bernstein, percussionist Roberto Juan Rodriguez, and backing vocalists Simi Stone and Lindsey Webster. A Love Electric's approach is decidedly more rockist here. Clouser's emotional vocals are heard up front, and the album seems to be inspired by late-'70s funk, New York no wave, and, most notably, Bill Nelson's Red Noise's Sound on Sound album. As messy as that might sound on the surface, The Naked Beat is a taut gem of a recording. The ensemble is firing on all cylinders. Bernstein's horn charts are wonderfully complementary, adding elements of funk, jazz, R&B, and avant freedom to sometimes conventional rock proceedings. Check the dynamic "Hollow Ego," where the new wave immediacy of the tune and Clouser's paranoid vocals are answered by taut horn fills, chanted choruses, handclaps, and stinging guitars. By contrast, "Not Hurt" employs funky horns (à la Memphis soul), breakbeats, and a gospel choir refrain in a syncopated R&B groove, driven by the rhythm section giving Clouser's guitar room to find seams and punch through them blues-wise. Black Sabbath's "War Pigs" is 21st century avant-rock futurism, with an infectious groove thanks to nasty breaks by Hecht and a killer bassline by Cruz. "4th of July" is at the seam where no wave meets Joe Bowie's Defunkt. "Ride My Radio," pushed forth by the backing chorus and Bernstein's horn section, skewers R&B. The set closer is an unrecognizable cover of Tears for Fears' "Mad World." Its layers of drums and percussion -- from marimbas to tambourines and snares -- underscore Clouser's most frenetic guitar work, underpinned by Scott's acoustic and Rhodes pianos, with a blunt-trauma-force bassline and Hecht's drums alternating between hard rock shuffle, R&B vamp, and post-bop syncopation. The Naked Beat is at least as provocative as its predecessor, but it doesn't feel like an experiment; rather, it's a well-executed concept bursting with vision and creativity as it blurs the lines between musical genres inventively and effortlessly.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek