Paul Gilbert Behold Electric Guitar Mascot Label Group / Music Theories Recordings
Clever, Fascinating and Imaginative Jazz-Rock Fusion.
In theory I shouldn’t like this album; as it’s all instrumentals and guitar instrumentals at that; and not just any old guitar instrumentals but what, if my ears don’t deceive me are Jazz-Rock Fusion guitar based instrumentals! I thought they’d gone out of fashion way before the end of the last century …… but hey; Paul Gilbert (founder member of the pretty famous Mr. Big!) is giving it his damnedest to reinvent the genre; and bizarrely I keep getting drawn back time and time again, unearthing new nuggets of what I can only describe as ‘innovative genius!’ Without bothering with the Press Release (as usual) I launched straight in to opening track Haven’ It without the aid of any safety equipment. What is this witchcraft? The 7 minute long ‘guitar noodle’ had come to an end before I realised that there wasn’t a singer involved. Fancy that? I listened a bit more carefully to the next couple of tracks, I Own a Building and Everywhere Mary Went; and sure enough there still wasn’t a singer and….. this surprised even me …… I was enjoying what I was hearing. What has spun my head over the last couple of weeks is that Paul Gilbert has somehow managed to make every single track intrinsically different and seperate from each other; but put them all together to create a cohesive album. Okay, that’s how Jazz and Classical music works; but I don’t listen to enough of either to understand the concept. So; this has been a journey of discovery for me; and a big part of the fun has been reading enigmatic titles like I Love My Lawnmower, Let The Battery Die and A Snake Just Bit My Toe and then associate them with the accompanying music …… it doesn’t work like that, it appears. I think Mr. Gilbert is having a joke at our expense; but the music is always outstanding; and his guitar playing never less than brilliant, while often thoughtful, stunning and majestically imaginative at all times. Selecting a Favourite Track has definitely not been easy; especially as closing track Things Can Walk To You is still filling the room like a guitar introduced fog; but I’m going for Sir You Need To Calm Down; partly because of the crazy title and partly because it really is a stunning 6 minutes and 38 seconds Rock Opus of gigantic proportions. I know there’s always been a lot of frenzied Guitar Gods making this type of music; and I’ve always avoided them but I did have a dalliance with John McLaughlin and Mahavishnu Orchestra back in the day; and I suppose this bookends The Inner Mounting Flame to some degree in my musical life.
An Exciting Change of Direction For Finland’s #1 Rocking Guitarist.
As regular readers will know, I don’t read Press Releases other reviews before listening to an album; for fear of being prejudiced; but I weakened a couple of weeks ago when my friend Iain at bluesenthused.com reviewed this disc. He liked it but scared me by using the most fearsome four letter word that I can think of ….. P.R.O.G! Two weeks later I can hear where he’s coming from (and Erja too); as this album is a distinct progression from her last album; but to my dodgy ears; I’m hearing a woman veering into the uncharted waters of Jazz Rock; none more so than opening track Snake in the Grass where our favourite Finnish Blues Rock star uses her voice as a virtual weapon; twisting and turning her vowels, while using her range to mystify and excite at the same time. While the seamless slide guitar style that she is famous for has virtually disappeared, save for a cameo appearance via Sonny Landreth on Wedding Day; there’s still more than enough gutsy guitar on Cherry Overdrive and the brooding Hard as Stone to satisfy every air-guitarist out there; and it’s no surprise that Erja’s words and vocals are just as impressive as her meanderings on her electric guitar. It’s probably the way that Erja uses her voice that points me towards that Jazz-Rock sensibility; but the way Another World and Miracle are constructed points us in that direction too…… but with the emphasis on the Rock end of this much maligned spectrum. To a greater or lesser degree, the best is kept for last with the album closing with two absolute belters; Torn is an epic Rock Ballad with something in her fluid guitar solos that reminds me of Gary Moore at his peak; and then there is the finale, the slow and disconsolate Break My Heart Gently; a beautifully sorrowful tearjerker of the finest hue, and therefore the Official RMHQ Favourite Song on this fascinating album. While I’m not hearing as much ‘Blues’ as I would have expected; and mercifully no ‘Prog’, but that’s no particular hardship as these songs all stand up for themselves; and I’m really excited at this new direction Erja Lyytinen is cruising off into, without needing to look over her shoulder.
Big Apple Blues
Stone Tone Records
Cool Sounds Straight Out of a Sleazy Club on the Wrong Side of 110th Street.
My dealer of all things Blue and with lots of Rhythm in the USA got in touch last week telling me that he had the perfect soundtrack to my upcoming holiday in Noo Yawk. Intrigued I checked the post every day and today ‘it’ arrived……..MANHATTAN ALLEY by a New York quintet Big Apple Blues!
The cover artwork certainly lives up to my fantasies about this fair city; but would the music live up to the hype?
Even from track #1 I loved the bands’ sense of humour as this feisty instrumental is called …… You Gotta Start Somewhere; and what a way to start indeed. Mesmerising guitar licks; a hypnotic drum and bass with some swirling organ and sax in the background…….this is the essence of what I want from NYC in under 3 minutes.
This is followed by a silky smooth and almost Staxtastic tune called Happy; which is exactly what it made me feel.
Historically I’m no lover of instrumental albums; but as I’m imagining it as an actual soundtrack to my week touring the hotspots and fleshpots of a city that I’ve dreamed of visiting for half a century; it works perfectly well in that setting.
Obviously with a few tunes featuring Jim Alfredson on a mighty Hammond B3 it’s all too easy to compare Deep Talkin’ and the slip-slidin’ and slinky Take Two to Booker T; but I hear a lot of Jimmy Smith and Dave Brubeck in there too, but neither sounds like anything I own by any of those maestros.
Then there is the sweet guitar of Zach Zunis on Hudson Breeze which sounds just like something you’d want to hear just as the sun was setting over the yardarm somewhere; anywhere in the world, not just the banks of the Hudson.
Steamroller, on the other hand is masterful slice of funk straight out of a sleazy club on the wrong side of 110th Street; boy oh boy can these fellas make a beautiful noise.
Not on everything; but at this stage in the album Big Apple Blues made me hark back to not just those three Jazz-Soul legends; but more along the lines of the Average White Band who could mould Jazz, Blues, Soul and indeed Rock together and create beautiful music…..just like these cats can.
There is quality oozing out of every single groove on this disc; none more so than the slow and sensuous SDW; written in honour of a dearly departed friend of the band who went by that moniker.
Even without seeing their photos; hearing the way they play their instruments with style, blending guitar, bass, drums, keyboards and harmonica with intelligence and imagination, you know they aren’t in the first flush of youth. It takes years and years of hard work to make sounding this good so simple and slick.
As I regularly point out, there’s no need these days for a commercial hit; but there are certainly a couple of tracks here that wouldn’t be out of place as theme tunes for a Cop Show on TV or even big old gangster movie on the big screen; I’m especially thinking of Subway Rumble and Rock On which would fit that bill as would the RMHQ Favourite Track, Love Will Find A Way; which has a right royal smoky film-noir feel to it.
It’s been very short notice; but I can now see why my friend Frank would think I would like MANHATTAN ALLEY, and tenuously use it as a soundtrack to 5 fun filled days in the Big Apple; and I keep my fingers crossed that I will stumble on these 5 guys getting their groove on in a seedy bar when I’m in town.
Ten Red-hot Songs From The Finest Guitarist You’ve Never Heard Of.
In the halcyon days of my youth in the 1970’s the weekly music papers Sounds, NME and Melody Maker had annual polls for best this and that with the accolade of Best Guitarist being the first thing me and my friends looked for; with the holy trinity of Clapton, Hendrix and Page rotating for the #1 slot with my favourite Rory Gallagher normally entering at #4.
Fast forward 40 years and barely a week goes by without me receiving an album by or featuring a guitarist that is literally mind blowing, and one such is Michael Landau.
If his name is familiar to regular RMHQ readers it could be because he was the touring guitarist for Dame Joni Mitchell back in the 80’s but he has also played on albums by artists as diverse as Miles Davis, Pink Floyd and even James Taylor!
Even that CV wasn’t enough to really capture my attention; but when the track opening track Squirrels turned up on my I-Phone shuffle last week my attention was certainly piqued at last. Phew, how to describe it isn’t easy? Think Jack Bruce/Cream or perhaps Chris Rea on a good day or more likely Dire Straits after listening to Led Zeppelin……yep, it’s that good.
The music here is on the Jazzier edge of the Blues Rock spectrum with David Frazee’s vocals straddling all three genres with ease as Michael Landau liquid gold guitar playing really sparkles on tracks like We All Feel The Same and Poor Dear.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised at the diversity Landau and friends shows across these 10 songs; but I wasn’t expecting anything half as beautiful as the intricate acoustic track Freedom or the mind blowing Speak Now, Make Your Peace which closes the disc and had me remembering the night I discovered Stevie Winwood’s Traffic…….it’s that kind of vibe; maaaannnnn.
The RMHQ favourite song is a tie between two very different songs; One Tear Away is heart shredding and bittersweet love song; best played with the lights down low and the other is a much more Rocky affair……with Bad Friend coming in just the right side of Metallic American Punk and best played LOUD……that is LOUD!!!
I suppose it would be all too easy to put this on as ‘interesting background music’ if you were having a dinner party in Hoxton, Heaton or Didsbury but Michael Landau has actually produced a work that should be listened to on your own; preferably on high quality to headphones to get the best out of it…..and you will.