Bill Frisell

Guitar in the Space Age!

OKeh

frisellIn a modernization of the electric-guitar/steel-guitar format pioneered by Speedy West & Jimmy Bryant in the ’50s, Bill Frisell — aided by Greg Leisz on pedal steel, lap steel and slide guitar — puts a laidback spin on an instrumental collection of early ’60s guitar music that inspired him as a kid.

It’s always been hard to tell whether guitar hero Frisell’s pigeonhole is Americana with a hint of avant-garde or vice versa. But since this set is space-age music, the debate is rendered pointless. Leisz’s as-always ethereal slide is invaluable in setting the scene, exemplified best on the Kinks’ “Tired of Waiting for You,” in which the two break away at midpoint to simulate Jerry Garcia accompanying himself on pedal steel, then morph briefly into Neil Young hanging ten with Crazy Horse before floating away on a stream of subconsciousness.

Speaking of surf, there are two types represented here: instrumental surf rock (the Chantays’ “Pipeline”) and vocal surf pop (the Beach Boys’ “Surfer Girl”), in surreal and dreamy versions, respectively. Also present is “Baja,” a reverb-soaked, whammy bar workout on the minor hit for the Astronauts. As well, there are a handful of not-quite-surf tracks, specifically Link Wray’s “Rumble,” Duane Eddy’s “Rebel Rouser” and the Tornados’ “Telstar,” the last of which is set up by one of two original Frisell compositions, “Lift Off.”

For country and folk aficionados, there’s a Charlie Christian-style take on Merle Travis’ “Cannonball Rag” and a Telecaster-Jazzmaster takeover of Pete Seeger’s “Turn, Turn, Turn.”

Of course, no electric-guitar/steel-guitar instrumental album would be worth its salt without tributes to the afore-mentioned West and Bryant. Hence, the spaciness of “Reflections From the Moon” (from West’s 1962 LP “Guitar Spectacular”) and loopiness of “Bryant’s Boogie” (his first feature side, from a 1950 78 with Cliffie Stone’s Band) become even more so here in the hands of the Nostalgia Bros.gnm_end_bug

Tracks
1. Pipeline
2. Turn, Turn, Turn
3. Messin’ with the Kid
4. Surfer Girl
5. Rumble
6. Shortest Day
7. Rebel Rouser
8. Baja
9. Cannonball Rag
10. Tired of Waiting for You
11. Reflections From the Moon
12. Bryant’s Boogie
13. Lift Off
14. Telstar

Total time: 55:08

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Aaron Comess

Blues for Use

Hey Boy/Innsbruck

comessThree things for instrumental music lovers to keep in mind about Spin Doctors drummer Aaron Comess’ third solo effort:

1) It’s guitar-bass-drums.
2) Despite jazz, folk and blues elements, it’s still rock ‘n’ roll.
3) Guitarist Teddy Kumpel  pole-vaults over Comess’ sky-high musical bar with finesse.

“My natural instincts tend to go to the weird side of things,” says Comess in the album’s press release, “but I’m also just as interested in a simple pop song — I tend to try to make my instrumental songs get to the point like a song with someone singing words would.”

“Blues for Use” is indeed a weird album, but in an awe-inspiring way. Take “Hard Ball” for instance: Set up by the spacey cinematic intro of “Surprise – Part 1” (think “Ra”-era Utopia minus the synthesizers), it startles with “Black Dog”-like bombast but soon switches to the gentle cry of electric slide, alternating between the two motifs and topping it off with a well-conceived bridge in the middle of its ABACABA construction.

Also in the press release, Kumpel says he enjoys “letting Aaron guide my guitar in a direction I never would go on my own. He jokes that he tries to write things that make me uncomfortable to play because sometimes it takes me a lot of work trying to make the songs my own and interpret them in a way that makes him happy. It’s always a satisfying challenge.”

Comess explained the method behind his dazzling compositions in an email to Good New Music: “Most of the songs I wrote on an acoustic guitar, then I would demo the song myself playing the guitar, bass and drums, and then send them to Teddy and Rich. Then we would go over them and record. Some of the songs on this record we got to play out live before we went in the studio.”

Especially noteworthy are the variable-speed “Gorilla,” which approximates a great ape lumbering through the forest; the Friends of Dean Martinez/Sonny Landreth/Eric Johnson-like “Bajelirious,” which at times is sort of a reverse-electronica composition where the bass (Richard Hammond really shines) and rhythm guitars mimic Moog effects; “Casa Colonial,” an ode to the American Primitive genre; and the title cut, another alternating tune — this time between harmonics-laden friendly folk (à la Hot Tuna’s “Water Song”) and foreboding fusion (à la Mahavishnu Orchestra’s “Birds of Fire”).gnm_end_bug

Tracks
1. Surprise – Part 1
2. Hard Ball
3. Guilty Until Proven Innocent
4. Sunrise
5. Gorilla
6. Bajelirious
7. Clear
8. Casa Colonial
9. Blues For Use
10. Moonrise
11. Finally
12. Surprise – Part 2

Total time: 37:12

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Steve Dawson

Rattlesnake Cage

Black Hen

dawsonThis is Canadian guitarist/producer/record-label head Steve Dawson’s second instrumental release, the first being 2008’s “Telescope,” which was the result of a grant to study pedal steel guitar under L.A. session man Greg Leisz. “Rattlesnake,” however, is strictly acoustic.

The album was recorded between tours and production work during the latter half of 2013. There were no overdubs or effects: just some fingers, slides and four guitars (a Larrivée Jumbo, Michael Dunn-built Weissenborn, National Tricone and Taylor 12-string) stuck in front of a Neuman M49 mic rescued after 50 years from a Detroit church.

There are shades of Reverend Gary Davis, Mississippi John Hurt, John Fahey, Taj Mahal, Ry Cooder, Leo Kottke, Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Rose in the 11 original compositions. Ragtime, fingerstyle, slide, gospel, resophonic, country — all manner of old-time guitar is here, recorded and mastered oh so well for optimum enjoyment.

A few of the tunes even have that authentic speed-up/slow-down thing, where the music sounds like a 33⅓ LP perfectly sped up to 45 or 78 rpm and then brought back to normal.

Slide fans will take special note of “Flophouse Oratory,” the title cut, “Butterfly Stunt,”  the interestingly titled “While the West Was Won, the Earth Didn’t Know It” and “Chunky.”gnm_end_bug

Tracks
1. Blind Thomas At The Crime Scene
2. Flophouse Oratory
3. The Medicine Show Comes To Avalon
4. Rattlesnake Cage
5. Lighthouse Avenue
6. Butterfly Stunt
7. While The West Was Won, The Earth Didn’t Know It
8. J.R. Lockley’s Dilemna
9. The Flagpole Skater Laughs From Above
10. Chunky
11. The Altar At Center Raven

Total time: 41:26

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Joe Goldmark

The Wham of That Steel Man!

Lo-Ball

Joe Goldmark is the keeper of the instrumental pedal steel guitar flame. On his last album, 2007’s “Seducing the ’60s,” he branched out by including guest vocalists on half the songs. Now, for his ninth solo album (he also was a member of Jim Campilongo and the 10 Gallon Cats as well as the Twangbangers), he branches out further with a double album — a vocal disc and an instrumental disc.

The vocal disc features Keta Bill. “I’ve known Keta for about 20 years,” Goldmark told Good New Music by e-mail. “She’s (music critic) Joel Selvin’s ex-wife. She was in (’80s R&B big band) the Zasu Pitts Memorial Orchestra and (ZPMO’s later incarnation) Big Bang Beat. … I wanted a rock-and-roll singer rather than a jazz or country singer for this album. (Guitarist) Gary Potterton and I supply the country sounds.”

As on prior outings, Goldmark displays his penchant for covering classic rock numbers. On the vocal disc, he covers Creedence Clearwater Revival, Buffalo Springfield, Bobby Fuller, the Beach Boys, George Harrison, Bob Dylan and Blind Faith, among others. He also throws in tracks of more recent vintage by Jeff Buckley, Teenage Fanclub and Dr. Dog.

The lion’s share of the instrumental disc, by comparison, is made up of Goldmark originals. The rest is covers of the Beatles, Dmitri Tiomkin, Burt Bacharach, and Dave and Ansel Collins.

Goldmark’s résumé explains his impressive musical taste — he’s an avid record collector with a website containing an LP label guide, LP price guides and an album cover gallery. He’s also a partner in San Francisco record shop Amoeba Music.

For a change of pace, he plays lap steel on “Long As I Can See the Light” and Dobro on “Can’t Find My Way Home.” Supporting musicians add fiddle to “Caroline No,” “Glass Beach” and “Tsunami,” and horns to “Long As I Can See the Light,” “Guns of Navarone” and Goldmark originals  “The Ska’s the Limit” and “Zanzibar.”

Best song on the album: “Sexy Sadie,” featuring John McFee (Clover, the Doobie Brothers) on slide guitar.

Tracks

KETA’S SIDE
1. Long As I Can See The Light
2. On The Way Home
3. Let Her Dance
4. Caroline No
5. I Don’t Want Control Of You
6. Beware Of Darkness
7. Most Likely You Go Your Way
8. Lover, You Should’ve Come Over
9. We’ll Meet Again
10. Ain’t It Strange
11. Can’t Find My Way Home

JOE’S SIDE
1. The High Road
2. Palomino
3. The Ska’s The Limit
4. Riptide Rock
5. Sexy Sadie
6. Zanzibar
7. Glass Beach
8. Guns Of Navarone
9. Any Day Now
10. Dede’s Delight
11. Pasta Puttanesca
12. Double Barrel
13. Tsunami

Total time: 1:14:11

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Ancient Future

World Without Walls

Capitol/EMI

San Francisco Bay Area-based Ancient Future was all about “world fusion” before world music was even a genre. To honor the band’s reunion this summer after a 15-year performance hiatus, Capitol/EMI is giving their fifth and most accessible disc its first digital release.

Violinist Jim Hurley came on board for this long-out-of-print 1990 outing, joining the core group of guitarist Matthew Montfort, keyboardist Doug McKeehan and percussionist Ian Dogole and remaining as a member for the rest of the group’s seven studio albums. Tabla player extraordinaire Zakir Hussain was recruited for three songs, and the record also is an early engineering/production credit for alternative pedal steeler Bruce Kaphan (who, alas, only plays shaker here).

Several exotic instruments spice up this instrumental stew, including electric violin and synthesized thumb piano (“Dance of the Rain Forest”), steel drums (“April Air”), and Balinese gamelan and Chinese flute (“Nyo Nyo Gde”).

Other highlights are “Lakshmi Rocks Me,” a tribute to south Indian violinist L. Shankar; “End of the Beginning,” a mashup of ancient Celtic and Indian influences; “Turkish Taffy,” boasting a triple-lead attack comprising guitar, piano and acoustic violin; “Indra’s Net,” inspired by Hindu mythology and featured in the soundtrack for the drift-net fishing documentary “Closing the Curtains of Death”; and “Gopi Song,” a tip of the hat to Pandit Ram, master of a north Indian bowed string instrument called the sarangi.

Tracks
1. Lakshmi Rocks Me
2. Dance Of The Rain Forest
3. April Air
4. 14 Steps
5. End Of The Beginning
6. Turkish Taffy
7. Alap
8. Indra’s Net
9. Nyo Nyo Gde
10. Gopi Song

Total time: 44:02

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