What does it sound like?:
Joe Satriani achieved a career high and simultaneous own goal with his second album, 1987’s “Surfing with the alien” which both set the template and closed the book on high energy / high technique risk guitar instrumental music. Others tried to play faster, heavier, etc but the original, much imitated, is still the greatest. Joe gave early indications that, whilst he was perfectly capable of high octane widdleage, he was smarter and broader than that. The follow-up, “Flying in a blue dream”, revealed his singing, wailing blues harp and even banjo guitar. Not just a shredder then. He filled in on lead guitar with Deep Purple for one tour, and also with Mick Jagger on a solo outing.
The other thing which sets him apart is his love for a good melody. Like Jeff Beck, he is as happy with a weeping, melodramatic instrumental ballad as the rockier stuff and his grasp of more sophisticated musical theory pushes some of these tracks into fusion territory.
The album sounds terrific given it was recorded during lockdown with most of the contributions added remotely rather than in a room, but where many home grown efforts from this blighted period take the hand knitted, rootsy back to basics path, this sounds massive with synths, steaming Hammonds and piano woven into the core of big funky drums and a tasty popping bass guitar.
Interestingly it starts with what to my ears sounds like a Satch home recording with programmed drums – he’s done these before and they are great but you recognise the template. “Sahara” has a raga like melody with a chunky groove and a broad pallette of guitar tones. It progresses through rockier stuff, some ballads and intriguingly what I can only describe as Satch does Country Soul. As it progresses so the band seem to stretch out more with the aforementioned fusion chops coming through. Whilst it might sound like a mishmash, Joe’s always interesting playing – he’s big on weird squeaks, dive bombs, muting and not sure how to describe it sounds – shines through gluing it all together. He demonstrates a wide range of tones from lovely Peter Green sounding clean blues through to fully on nasty rawk.
What does it all *mean*?
When I first listened to this I was working and somewhat distracted and I confess my heart sank slightly as I really admire Joe, who is a great player, decent bloke and tireless supporter of guitar tuition and promoting the instrument to younger players. I heard relentless rocky tracks with furious widdle over it, and I sighed to myself and felt a bit guilty. However I followed the 6 listens Tigger rule and sure enough, as I got to know it, the tunes opened up, stylistic differences emerged and hooks implanted in my brain. Ballad “Faceless” has a descending melody which is a really just the descending notes of the minor scale over soft moving chords but man it’s catchy. Why did no one do that before (OK, they probably did, but not like this). “E 104th St NYC 1973” has a repeated melody which repeats as the keys double under the guitar, great melodic bass playing then a Zappa-esque wah wah solo from Joe, again with melody aforethought. There are no vocals on the album but “Through a Mother’s Day Darkly” has Joe telling a story of some sci-fi dystopian tale of a future war over intense riffage and massive synth strings.
It’s temping to say that those who insist guitars are dead are wrong, but to insist this album alone proves otherwise is as daft as the assertion itself. It does provide ample evidence, though, that in the hands of someone with passion and skill they can still make a mighty noise.
I only have the review MP3 but I shall be buying this one. I can’t say I’ve stayed abreast of all his 27 albums by any means, but this is as good as a modern rock guitar album gets.
Incidentally there are a number of interesting videos on Joe’s website covering the recording of the album. I got very exciting when we got to the pick/P bass/maple neck discussion on bass sounds. Really.
Goes well with…
Anywhere you can play air guitar and gurn quietly.
Might suit people who like…
Well, rock guitar music. It’s not going to convince any naysayers but those who like the fusion end of things will also find things to enjoy here.