Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Various Artists - Guitar Speak

In 1988, the IRS No Speak label began releasing albums in the "Guitar Speak" trilogy. In this project, various guitarists were called upon to provide new material for compilation releases. The guitarists surveyed in this series generally came from diverse musical backgrounds -- making objective reviewing even more difficult than usual, but also making the listening process quite rewarding for the open-minded.

It almost goes without saying that an album of this sort would probably appeal primarily to "professionals" of the guitar craft. Not being such a professional myself, I hasten to point out that this review is intended to judge the final musical product at least as much as "the technical prowess" of the guitarist in question. Matters of speed, precision, and range are very important things. But they aren't the only important things.

In general, the first Guitar Speak album is a valuable collection of various styles, with each guitarist given enough space to showcase their abilities to the desired extent. The two high points of the album, from my perspective, are the works of Alvin Lee and Steve Howe.

Alvin Lee's performance was somewhat of a surprise to me, given that I've never heard Ten Years After, nor did I believe them to be a group that I would be interested in. This piece, however, was an excellent showcase of Lee's skills, moving from sweeping melodies to driving riffs, and even taking the time to indulge in a two-hand tapping section. It's unquestionably a "hard rock" piece, but nonetheless a very good one. David Hubbard's keyboards were also incorporated well. An excellent way to the begin the album.

The excellence of Steve Howe's piece was, of course, much less surprising to me. "Sharp On Attack" (which has since resurfaced in an alternate form on Homebrew, and also appears of Yesoteric 3) is an excellent display of Howe's talents. Steve uses more guitars on his piece than anyone else on this album (five, to be precise), and the internal diversity which results makes it well worth it. The acoustic opening provides excellent flavouring, and the middle section of the piece ranks among Howe's better melodies of recent years. This piece must be considered as the second official installment in Howe's redemption for the early 1980s (with "Sketches In The Sun" being the first), and it does its job well.

The surprise of the album, from my perspective, was that Steve Hunter's piece was so good. "Urban Strut" starts off in a less-than-promising way, but quickly develops into a decent blues-prog jam with one of the better melodies on the album.

Most of the other tracks on the album fall into the "good but not great" category. The late Randy California's "The Prisoner" is a rather dark piece, developing towards a strangely cathartic (for the listener, that is) section towards the end -- I liked it, but not quite enough to grant it a higher rating. Eric Johnson's "Western Flyer" features various clever developments on the guitar, but never quite breaks through into something really special (a microcosmic glimpse at Johnson's career, some might argue).

Leslie West's "Let Me Out'A Here" is notable for being the first track on the album not to feature drums in any capacity. ;) On its own, its also a good piece, pushing forth a good melody with various "dark" chords.

Ronnie Montrose's "Blood Alley 152" is the only mistake on the album. Montrose apparently wrote this piece after excising all of the jazz influences from his system, and the listener must suffer as a result. Bludgeoning power chords (vaguely reminiscent of "Don't Fear The Reaper") mingle with really dumb rhythm guitar parts to create a show-offy piece without much substance at all. The quiet section of the piece isn't very interesting either. A few decent spots appear in scattered locations, but aren't enough to save the piece. The " * * 1/2 " rating is granted mostly for the objective fact that Montrose is, from a technical level, possessing of some reasonable skill; my subjective rating would be lower. Placing this piece directly before "Sharp On Attack" must be regarded as a considerable error on someone's part.

Phil Manzanera's "Sphinx" is a bit of a disappointment. The opening section (featuring acoustic percussion, bass, and only an incidental acoustic guitar section) is fairly interesting, but Manzanera's electric spotlight in the main body of the song... well... isn't all that interesting, frankly. There is some entertainment value to the piece, perhaps, but this could have been much better.

Rick Derringer's "Sloe Moon Rising" isn't too interesting at first, but it gets better toward the end. Not a terribly notable piece, but listenable enough. Pete Haycock's "Danjo" has a (surprise!) banjo-esque opening, which unfortunately doesn't really develop quite as well as it could. It's still good, but the main body of the piece doesn't sustain the character of the introduction.

Hank Marvin's "Captain Zlogg" might appeal to Shadows fans, or fans of early-'60s Surf Music in general. For my own part, I found it to be a decent piece, with an interesting middle section, but somewhat lacking. The closing section also struck me as being a bit hackneyed.

Robby Krieger's "Strut-A-Various" is a decent ending for the album, with good work by all of the players involved. The composition seems a bit unfocused, at times, but the general value of the track still comes through.

The casual music fan might balk at the idea of an album of guitar spotlights, but those with a serious interest in guitar-driven progressive music should consider checking this album out.
The Christopher Currie

(review originally posted to on 25 Apr 1997)

Artist: Track: Rating:

1. Alvin Lee No Limit * * * * 1/2
2. Randy California The Prisoner * * * 1/2
3. Eric Johnson Western Flyer * * * 1/2
4. Leslie West Let Me Out'A Here * * * 1/2
5. Ronnie Montrose Blood Alley 152 * * 1/2
6. Steve Howe Sharp On Attack * * * * 1/2
7. Phil Manzanera Sphinx * * *
8. Rick Derringer Sloe Moon Rising * * *
9. Pete Haycock Danjo * * * 1/2
10. Steve Hunter Urban Strut * * * *
11. Hank Marvin Captain Zlogg * * *
12. Robby Krieger Strut-A-Various * * * 1/2

Additional Musicians:

* David Hubbard: keyboards (track 1)
* Ed Cassidy: percussion (track 2)
* Liberty: bass (track 2)
* Tommy Taylor: drums (track 3)
* Roscoe Beck: bass (track 3)
* Glenn Letsch: bass (track 5)
* Dean Johnson: drums (track 5)
* Nigel Glockner: drums (track 6)
* John Wetton: bass guitar, Taurus pedals (track 7)
* Mikey Sturges: drums/percussion (track 7)
* Nick Parker: drums (track 8)
* CP Roth: keyboards (track 8)
* Nigel Bowers: sax (track 9)
* Livingston Brown: bass (track 9)
* Chris Bucknell: keyboards (track 9)
* Lucienne Haycock: vox harmony (track 9)
* Bruce Gary: drums (track 10)
* Jim Johnson: bass (track 10)
* John Hernandez and John Avila: bass and drums (track 12)
* Earth, Wind & Fire brass section: horns (track 12)


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