Friday, June 01, 2012

Playlist: May

Albums currently in rotation:

  • Jack White—Blunderbuss (2012) 
  • (See video of "Sixteen Saltines," above)
  • Bass Communion—Cenotaph (2011), Bass Communion 1 (2001)
  • Wye Oak—Civilian (2011)
  • Steven Wilson, Theo Travis, Dirk Serries, Sand Snowman, et alTF100 (2011)
  • O.S.I.—Office of Strategic Influence (2003)
  • King Crimson—Discipline (40th Anniversary Series remaster 2011), Vroom (1994)
  • Robert Plant—Manic Nirvana (1990)
  • The Tedeschi Trucks Band—Revelator (2011), Everybody's Talkin' - Live (2012)
  • Joe Bonamassa—Driving Towards the Daylight (2012)
  • Alison Krauss & Union Station—New Favorite (2001)
  • Keane—Strangeland (2012)
  • Trevor Rabin—Jacaranda (2012)
  • I Break Horses—Hearts(2011) 
  • The Gary Moore Band—Grinding Stone (1973)
  • Storm Corrosion—Storm Corrosion (2012)
  • Robert Plant & The Strange Space Shifters—Guildhall live (2012)
I've waited more than a decade for a new album by one of my all-time favorite guitarists, Trevor Rabin who is best known as the guitarist and principal songwriter in the band YES from 1983 to 1994. (Yep, he's the dude who wrote "Owner of a Lonely Heart.") His last solo record was 1989's Can't Look Away and his last rock record was YES's Talk in 1994.

Not that Rabin has idle over the years. Far from it. In fact, he's released an album or two -- sometimes even three -- every single year since he quit YES. Those albums are soundtrack records, usually for Jerry Bruckheimer movies such as Enemy of the State, Remember the Titans, The Scorceror's Apprentice, Gone In 60 Seconds, Armageddon, National Treasure and Get Smart. I've enjoyed many of the South African guitarist's compositions from those movies but I've missed his guitar playing which only occasionally makes an appearance on his soundtracks. Jacaranda isn't anything like Trevor's great back catalog of solo records or his work with YES. In fact, it's a purely instrumental record and it's gonna surprise a lot of people.

It's also going to confound a lot of listeners. A good friend of mine who is a big fan of Trevor Rabin hates this record. Personally, I love it and I've been playing it repeatedly for months ever since I received a promo copy of it. (I had the pleasure of interviewing Rabin for Rock Square and the interview will soon.)

Here's what's so interesting about this album: At one time, many YES fans accused Rabin of just being merely a flashy rock guitarist who lacked Steve Howe's diverse vocabulary of classical guitar, bluegrass, and jazz. Yet Jacaranda demonstrates that Rabin is virtuoso in all those areas, too, and is so much more than just a flashy rock guitarist. Jacaranda is a very unusual record that spans a wide range of influences (usually in just one song) ranging from traditional jazz guitar, bluegrass, progressive rock, classical music, jazz fusion, and hard rock.

For instance the second track, "Market Street," is a great summation of all those influences. It starts with a Carl Verheyen-style electric guitar riff and then segues into YES-style prog with tricky time changes (almost reminiscent of "I'm Running" from YES's Big Generator) before detouring into jazz guitar licks and then bluegrass dobro similar to that of Union Station's Jerry Douglas. All in the space of one track!

When the epic "Anderley Road" starts with jazz licks, you may wonder if you've stumbled into a Joe Pass record, but then it transforms into something that sounds almost like Chris Squire's "Fish" but with rootsy dobro guitar and then it goes into some pretty spacey jazz-rock guitar over jazz-y drumming and piano.

"Through the Tunnel" starts off as with tranquil piano and pastoral bluegrass guitar and then it works up a head of steam before the track shifts into some very recognizably Rabin-esque hard rock with a jazz rock section that is pure Jeff Beck-inspired stuff with fiery lead guitar. (Appropriately enough, Jeff Beck's former rhythm section, drummer Vinnie Coliauta and bassist Tal Wilkenfeld, guest on this track.) You can also hear the DNA of Rabin's solo work plus some elements of his adventurous YES stuff (such as "I'm Running," "Miracle of Life," "Endless Dream"). The guitarwork in this one gets my adrenaline pumping every time.

A few of the tracks, such as "Rescue," sound very soundtrack-y.

It's very far out stuff, bold and adventurous and unpredictable. Those hankering after some old-school Trevor Rabin will get a kick out of the track "Me and My Boy." (If the title is anything to go by, I assume that Trevor's son, Ryan, is on drums). It has a killer big rock riff. Truth be told, I'd worried that Rabin's formidable guitar skills may have waned since he left YES to compose movie scores, but Rabin's six-string gymnastics on this record are pretty kick ass.