Reviews in this issue:
- Daryl Stuermer - Go (Duo Review)
- Alan Morse - Four O'clock & Hysteria
- John 5 - The Devil Knows My Name
- Sifu Stephen Doe - Playing With Time
- Neil Zaza - When Gravity Fails
- J T Bruce - The Dreamer’s Paradox
Daryl Stuermer - Go
Tracklist: Striker (4:50), Masala Mantra (4:06), Greenlight (3:58), Dream In Blue (5:40), Breaking Point (4:24), Urbanista (6:31), Heavy Heart (5:10), Meltdown (4:33), The Archer (4:22), Omnibus (3:30)
Martien Koolen's Review
Since 1980, American guitar player Daryl Stuermer has been playing with Genesis during their live gigs. Furthermore he has performed alongside Phil Collins both in the studio and on stage and contributed to the solo albums of Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford. After the Invisible Touch-tour he recorded his debut solo album called Steppin’ Out. Go is Stuermer’s ninth solo release and this CD is completely dedicated to a rockier electric guitar sound, making this album his best so far, at least in my humble opinion…..
All the 10 songs are riff oriented however still always very melodic and easy accessible for all listeners, creating a mix of musical elements of Allan Holdsworth, Al Di Meola, Joe Satriani and Michael Lee Firkins. The opening song Striker is rather jazzy with great solo parts and a really “full” guitar sound. Musical highlights are Dream In Blue (a ballad like track with a fantastic melody mixed with dreamy solos like normally only Satch, Urso or Zaza could come up with), Urbanista (a funky, proggy song with speedy arpeggios, melodic solos and a short pumping bass solo) and Heavy Heart (featuring a Genesis-Collins-like intro, followed by chill to the bones solos; again a very emotional song). There is also a multi-cultural element on this album featuring Caribbean rhythms and melodies from the Far East like for example in a song like Masala Mantra.
Daryl is once again supported by his long time highly skilled collaborators Eric Hervey (bass guitar), Leland Sklar (bass guitar), John Calarco (drums) and Kostia (keyboards). A great guitar album and I did not miss vocals on any of the songs, so it is: On your marks, get set and go with full power out of the speakers. My advice is: play this album as loud as you can and if you like guitar music then you will be hooked after the first spin.
Bob Mulvey's Review
Strangely, when the matter of influential guitar comparators crop up in our CD Reviews pages, Daryl Stuermer's name is very seldom mentioned, which is odd with a career spanning several decades and of course Daryl has "sessioned" for one the more successful UK bands, and the drummer from that same band for many a year now. This oversight may well be due to the lack of publicity for his solo work, especially if we consider that this is his ninth such release. Hopefully, with distribution via the pro-active InsideOut label, this may change matters.
Last year saw the release of a compilation album from Daryl, released through the Unicorn Digital label, suitably entitled Rewired , finding much favour with this reviewer. So I was pretty keen to hear this latest offering. Go follows closely in the footsteps of his previous releases with seven new compositions and three unreleased tracks from 1974 and 1980 - I'll leave you to work which ones. Go is an all electric guitar album so the music takes on a more rocky, "aggressive" stance, although light and shade are still offered.
The album kicks off in a distinctly rock/fusion style with Striker, bearing more than a passing resemblance to Jeff Beck's Led Boots - a track that kicks the album off to a very good start, and from the very outset Go demonstrates once again what a great player Daryl Stuermer is. Masala Mantra adds a more exotic flavouring, and as the title might suggest with a distinct Eastern flavouring. Greenlight tips it's hat in the direction of Eric Johnson's Cliffs Of Dover. Now this is not to infer that Daryl may have borrowed any ideas, rather more acknowledging his contemporaries, and as such, references to Toto and Genesis can also be found scattered amongst the music. All of which gives the album a really feel-good factor and with Daryl's sublime guitar playing this is an album chock-full of great melodic music. Liberally smothered with lashings of superbly executed solos.
For an instrumental album Go has a serious amount of hook lines, and after only a couple of runs through, I was able to hum my way at several of the themes - not something that you can often say about instrumental music. So if you've never felt inclined to check out any of Dayrl Stuermer's solo work then as a starting point you need go no further (pun intended). Go officially hits the streets next Monday - 23rd April 2007.
Alan Morse - Four O'clock & Hysteria
Tracklist: Cold Fusion (5:14), Return To Whatever (5:48), Drive In Shuffle (4:21), R Bluz (6:54), First Funk (5:31), Dschungel Cruz (4:59), The Rite Of Left (4:31), Chroma (5:23), Spanish Steppes (5:46), Track 3 (4:23), Major Buzz (6:08), Home (4:59)
This solo album by Spock's Beard's guitarist Al Morse has been anticipated for a long time and I was getting rather curious after last year's sneak preview during the Beard's tour. Now it's finally here, Al's tour de force, helped by his brother Neal who co-wrote some material and also co-produced the album. Al's buddies from the Beard also make several appearances on the album. I had hoped for some guest vocals by Neal or Nick on this disc, but alas the full album is instrumental. Even songs that cry out for vocals, like the uplifting Drive In Shuffle, which could easily have been a more mainstream Spock's Beard track, have a total lack of lyrics.
After hearing the first two tracks I was very disappointed since they were both jazz-fusion tunes; probably one of my least favourite musical styles. Of course it's all very well done and the appearance of violinist Jerry Goodman of the Mahavishnu Orchestra is very impressive but stylistically it's just not my cup of tea. Fortunately the album turned out to be a mixture of many more musical genres, including blues (R Bluz), shuffles (Drive In Shuffle, Chroma), funk-rock (First Funk), straightforward rock (The Rite Of Left, feature the full Spock's Beard band), Latin (Spanish Steppes), easy listening (Track 3, Home) and more. Most of the time the fusion influence is very present though. As such it reminds me of some of the earlier instrumentals by Snowy White.
The album has 'guitarist solo album' written all over it. It could probably best be compared to a Satriani album. And those who have seen Al live on stage will not be surprised that he takes the spotlight whenever possible. The solo's of other instruments are scarce (and if they appear they're often duets with the guitar). There are few minutes when you don't hear Al playing, or playing two guitar tracks at the same time. At times this gets completely over the top, like for instance the AC/DC Angus Young self-indulgence style solo in Rite Of Left, when even the full band falls away and you're left with Al at his most egocentric. I have to admit though that it's kind of fun and I really liked seeing this track live with the band last year.
To be perfectly honest, this album isn't quite what I expected and since fusion is not one of my favourites I can't get extremely excited about it. Having said that, I have found it enjoyable nevertheless. Some of the music is quite relaxing, some might make great background music for an evening with friends and some tunes are nice uplifting toe-tappers. As such this album will not find itself back into my CD player often, at least not when I'm planning to listen to some music. However, during the quiet moments it would be great to fill the silent void. But I doubt if that was what Al had in mind when making this album ...
Conclusion: 7- out of 10
John 5 - The Devil Knows My Name
Tracklist: First Victim (1:05), The Werewolf Of Westeria (8:42), 27 Needles (6:56), Bella Kiss (1:30), Black Widow Of La Porte (7:26), Welcome To The Jungle (4:29), Harold Rollings Hymn (0:53), Dead Art In Plainfield (8:01), Young Thing (3:05), The Washing Away Of Wrong (8:44), July 31st [The Last Stand] (4:11)
This is one seriously strange album, compelling in parts, but definitely strange. It is also a tricky album and to be perfectly honest I'm not a 100% convinced I like it. I like parts of the album very much and other sections have grown on me. However what I definitely like is the fact that John 5 pushes out the envelope. This isn't just regurgitated guitar riffs with endless soloing. Probably quite a strange remark to make in a feature that is all about guitars and guitarists. However what John 5 adds is a concept and explores this concept through his playing. He's not afraid to explore these concepts by incorporating differing musical styles - something that attracted me to his last album Songs For Sanity, released in 2005. I found Songs For Sanity a somewhat bitty affair, but happily this new album has incorporated many of those ideas into a much more coherent work.
Many, I assume, will not be familiar with John 5 - well to his list of credits he has recorded and toured with Marilyn Manson, Rob Halford and David Lee Roth. More recently he has completed songs for the Scorpions, worked with Lynyrd Skynyrd and also Meatloaf on Bat Out Of Hell III (heaven help us). Perhaps not a great deal to enthuse the prog devotee in that collective. So the assembled cast alongside John 5 (guitars/bass/banjo) for this release - Piggy D & Matt Bissonette (bass) and Sid Riggs & Tommy Clufetos (drums), and with guest guitarists are Joe Satriani, Eric Johnson and Jim Root (Slipknot), may also not raise the ante much, however you may well be surprised - I certainly was.
Firstly the The Devil Knows My Name is a concept album taking its theme from the distorted minds of certain notorious murders and serial killers. The Werewolf Of Westeria, 27 Needles (Albert Fish), Black Widow Of La Porte (Belle Gunness), Dead Art In Plainfield (Ed Gein), along with some less and more obvious titles. So with such a concept it is perhaps to be expected that the music is somewhat twisted and deformed. To this end John 5 incorporates such diverse styles as bluegrass, country and infuses them into a heavy metallic mutation. The use of odd metering, more complex rhythmic patterning and extended arrangements certainly lends a "progressive" aura to the album. Possibly the best illustration of this comes in the form of the country rock/neo classical/progressive metal/shredfest that is 27 Needles. Insane and wonderful stuff! Which is followed by the gentle, but all too brief Bella Kiss bringing to mind the unique styling of Adrian Legg.
Now not all of the album worked for me. The instrumental version of Guns n' Roses Welcome To The Jungle felt out of place and as the first single from the album (!), it sure came across like a bad choice in more ways than one. Chet Atkin's Young Thing was interesting but sat a little uneasily on the album. There was perhaps also a little too much in the way of just guitar "noise", and certainly the first minute and a half is a skip-by experience. Sections of The Werewolf Of Westeria fell foul of this to be truthful.
This certainly isn't going to appeal across the board, (a bit of an understatement there me thinks). Probably not worth mentioning but this a fairly "heavy" album, so if you like your prog drenched in mellotrons with gently picked acoustic guitar and lilting flutes taking up the melody, then this may not sit to comfortably in your CD player. However those with a liking for the more adventurous side of the electric guitar may well find something of interest. Steve Morse fans should certainly check out the country rock maulings of Mr 5.
I wrote the opening paragraph of this review about a week or so before uploading the final draft of this review... since then The Devil Knows My Name has grown on me considerably. It's still a strange album but more compelling with every listening. So six months down the line, who knows how much more it may have grown on me.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Sifu Stephen Doe - Playing With Time
Tracklist: Awakening (6:52), Breathe (5:44), Questions (1:30), Con-Fusion (9:00), Hidden Time (3:33), My Self Reflection (8:27), Strat-o-Spheric (3:35)
A while back a received an email saying that I would shortly be receiving an album from Sifu Stephen Doe, a guitar maestro/multi-instrumentalist hailing from New Hampshire USA. Based on my DPRP profile and listening preferences Stephen felt that his second release, Playing With Time might well appeal to me. So I quickly popped over to MySpace for a sneak preview of the material. He was right and I looked forward to receiving the album, which duly arrived back in January. Since then I've been popping it in and out of my CD player fairly regularly.
Firstly I would like to make note here that I buy, receive and listen to a great many, as I would term them, guitar albums, so over the years my expectations of said releases has grown somewhat higher and I am a great deal harder to impress nowadays. Now that little preamble might suggest that this album fell a little short... well musically it certainly didn't, however I did have some issues with the sonic quality. More on that later.
The control and execution of the guitar on this album suggests to me a musician who has honed his technique and now concentrates more of his efforts on writing catchy, melodic tunes as a basis for his music. However what raised the ante for Playing With Time is hinted at in the album title. Unlike many rock based guitar albums where the emphasis rests purely with the virtuosity of the guitar playing, Stephen has incorporated his progressive/fusion influences to offer a varied accompaniment to his primary instrument. Therefore the inclusion of odd metering and a great deal more emphasis on arrangement and structuring gave the instrumentals an added dimension. Consequently it makes Playing With Time the most progressive of the albums I have covered for this feature. Best illustrated by the longest track on the album, Con-Fusion, which emerges nicely from Questions, a solo piano interlude. A great melodic ProgMetal workout and a personal favourite for me.
But... and probably best illustrated by Con-Fusion was the recording. And I have to say that after several sessions with this CD I haven't warmed to the sound. I love the compositions and thoroughly enjoyed the material. But the downside to the album is in the sonics and mixing. Not wanting to sound like an anorak, but I found it necessary to put some strange looking EQ curves into my graphic equaliser to warm up the the sound and to pull forward the bass guitar and lower end of the keyboards. The drums (presumably programmed) were a distraction as well and in particular the snare drum sound. A real shame.
Now I know one of Stephen's aims for producing and sending out the Playing With Time CD is to attract Record Company interest. I sincerely hope it does, however I suspect that it is unlikely to do so in its present form. There are a number of labels who do specialise in such releases and we at DPRP have covered many. However I feel it is more likely that Stephen will need to put a band together himself and record this material in the fashion it so deserves - perhaps then he may find a useful distribution network through these labels.
I have absolutely no problem recommending that you check out Sifu Stephen Doe and in particular this album. I loved the guitar tone, the fact that Playing With Time wasn't just a display of guitar histrionics, but rather a careful mixture of well constructed melodic compositions with "in context" guitar playing. So besides my misgivings about the audio and mixing quality, this still remains a thoroughly enjoyable album.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Neil Zaza - When Gravity Fails
Tracklist: Something Anything (4:53), Purple Plush (3:18), Cinematic (4:49), In My Dreams (3:51), Bleed (4:40), Celestine (4:30), Danza Della Notte (5:37), Heavyocity (6:25), My Only Son (5:34), My Dearest (3:10), Ultra (4:18), Awakening (0:52), Before The Throne (5:19)
Now whilst some guitar albums may suffer from a lack of production values or even band members due to a lack of finance, this certainly would not appear to be the case here with Neil Zaza. This is a remarkably lush recording with a stellar cast of musicians and guest musicians. I'll list a few of the more familiar names and let you visit Zaza's website to fill in the gaps. Jordan Rudess, Steve Smith (Journey), Michael Anthony (Van Halen), Peter Frampton... And along with this cast Zaza has added real strings courtesy of Heidi Albert on cello and Heather Gullstrand on violin & viola. Additional brass via Joe Miller.
So who is Neil Zaza many may ask? Well I can shed little light on this other than a friend once lent me a copy of his Staring At The Sun album. I remember being mightily impressed, but as the album was reclaimed the next day, my memory of the music is somewhat vague now. Ohio based Zaza has a career that languishes over fifteen years releasing several instrumental studio albums over that period. Live work has seen him sharing the the bill with "Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Dweezil Zappa, Steve & Mike Porcaro (Toto), Yngwie Malmsteen, Vinnie Moore, and Andy Summers. He has performed on albums by Dweezil Zappa, Eric Carmen, Michael Stanley and also supplied guitar tracks for a Stewart Copeland-produced movie soundtrack".
I used the word lush in the opening paragraph to describe this album, and it pretty much sums up the sumptuous nature of the music. This is anthemic Arena Rock (minus the vocals of course) with infectious hook-lines courtesy of the multi-layered and harmonically rich weave of guitars. Underlying much of the material is a solid foundation of Hammond organs, lush (I've used that word again) strings, piano and a sympathetic rhythm section.
There are many superb moments on When Gravity Fails - stand out tracks for me were the sprawling symphonic Danza Della Notte. Great melody, searing guitar, nice touches in the keyboard arrangements and superbly held together by Steve Smith. Cinematic is another melodically rich track - the "rock ballad" - instrumental style. Again soaring guitar with a deft piano solo interlude by Mr Ruddes and a guitar solo from Peter Frampton - magic stuff. Something Anything as it announces the album in great style, nicely orchestrated keys and strings, catchy refrain and some great melodic soloing. Then there is the lamenting My Dearest with its' soft piano and laid back guitar theme, offering one of the albums few quieter moments...
If I had one criticism of the album then it would be that at times the music just became overpowering, a little too full, like a really rich dessert, too much and you feel bloated. This said you always want a second helping.
So a great album chock-full of memorable tunes, great playing. Not a lot of progressive elements to be found here - so I would suggest that it might suit those who have liking for those grandiose rock anthems in a Journey, Toto, Styx mould.
Conclusion: 7+ out of 10
J T Bruce - The Dreamer’s Paradox
Tracklist: The Dreamer’s Overture (4:57), Ordinary World (5:47), Plunge Into Hyperreality (4:52), False Awakening (5:52), The Verge Of illusory Twilight (8:48), Life By Proxy (6:05), Parasomnia (6:07), The Mind Split Asunder (7:45), A Skeptic’s Hypothesis (7:16), Elucidation (6:40) Hypnic Jerk (10:14)
The Dreamer’s Paradox is J T Bruce’s second album, featuring recurring musical themes – as it is a concept album – acting as characters in a musical dream. The evolving and subtle themes interact with one another and are revisited throughout the entire album, creating the progress atmosphere akin to the telling of a story. It is an instrumental album although you can hear some female backing vocals on one track and some spoken words on another one.
In my opinion it is a album for guitar freaks only, and even for them it will be a tough nut to crack as the album is rather too long (74 minutes!!) to really enjoy it all the time… I especially like the more melodic and slower guitar solos in songs like False Awakening, The Verge Of illusory Twilight or The Mind Split Asunder, where JT Bruce reminds me of great guitar players like Andy Latimer or Neal Schon.
There are also some heavier songs on the CD like Ordinary World – with Dream Theater riffs? – or the up-tempo Plunge Into Hyperreality featuring an Eye Of The Tiger (Survivor) riff?? However do not forget to skip the last "song" Hypnic Jerk as it is just ten minutes filled with noise and weird sounds!!
So, if you like instrumental guitar albums you can check this one out - the album is available for free download at JT's site.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10