Saturday, August 12, 2017

Sand (1987, 2017), by Allan Holdsworth

CD Fan Review

Sand is about as far removed from a typical guitar album as you can get, and yet it is a prime example of the far-reaching sonic capabilities that can be achieved with a guitar.

This is Allan Holdsworth's first fully instrumental solo album, and it is a flawless delight from beginning to end. It is one of those rare records that can be played continuously without end and without exhaustion.

As brought to vivid and visceral life by Holdsworth's celestial Synthaxe tones and sizzling six-string solos, the compositions are cinematic and compelling, with buoyant backup support provided by sound effects technician John England, keyboardist Alan Pasqua, bassists Jimmy Johnson and Biff Vincent, and drummers Gary Husband and Chad Wackerman. Wackerman especially kicks his powerhouse pounding into high gear on this outing.

After 30 years, Sand remains a timeless testament to Holdsworth's visionary genius and brilliance.

--Raj Manoharan

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Atavachron (1986, 2017), by Allan Holdsworth

CD Fan Review

Although Atavachron isn't as perfect an album as its predecessor, Metal Fatigue, it's nearly as perfect, with Allan Holdsworth sounding the slickest he ever has up to this point.

Already a pioneer in the use of guitar synthesizers, Holdsworth adds the Synthaxe to his sonic palette. The Synthaxe is a cross between a guitar and a synthesizer, with Holdsworth adding a breath controller, enabling him to achieve crystalline tones never before possible with six strings.

The result is an album and title track that live up to their namesake, a time machine from the original Star Trek series episode "All Our Yesterdays," which is also the name of the one vocal track here, sung by Rowanne Mark. The cover illustration features Holdsworth, apparently an ardent Trekkie, in the atavachron, dressed in a Starfleet engineering/security red shirt and holding his Synthaxe.

Exploring strange new sounds and seeking out new music and new compositions, Allan Holdsworth boldly goes where no guitarist has gone before.

--Raj Manoharan

Friday, July 21, 2017

Metal Fatigue (1985, 2017), by Allan Holdsworth

CD Fan Review

The guitar great finally catches up with the decade he was born for, with synthesizer sounds aplenty both played by keyboardist Alan Pasqua and triggered by Allan Holdsworth through his guitar controller.

The result is Holdsworth's first truly slick, high-tech, state-of-the-art album, providing a perfect sonic launch pad for his fretboard flights of fancy.

In addition to the instrumental tunes, the record also includes Holdsworth's best rock vocal tracks, with lead turns by singers Paul Williams and Paul Kordo. The songs would have been right at home on 1980s radio and MTV and still sound awesome today.

Together with bassists Jimmy Johnson and Gary Willis and drummers Chad Wackerman, Gary Husband, and Mac Hine, Holdsworth creates music unlike any other before or since.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Road Games (1983, 2017), by Allan Holdsworth

CD Fan Review

Allan Holdsworth's second album is where the fretboard wizard truly found his voice and really took off.

His dynamic compositions and quickfire electric guitar leads soar, taking his music to sonic heights where very few, if any, could reach.

The guitarist, bassist Jeff Berlin and drummer Chad Wackerman (Frank Zappa, Andy Summers) flex their musical muscles on an eclectic mix of instrumentals and vocal tracks featuring singers Paul Williams and Cream legend Jack Bruce.

Highlights include "Three Sheets to the Wind," "Tokyo Dream" (the original rock version; a later, jazzier version appears on Holdsworth's 1992 release Wardenclyffe Tower), and "Was There?" (with vocals by Bruce).

--Raj Manoharan

Saturday, July 8, 2017

I.O.U. (1982, 2017), by Allan Holdsworth

CD Fan Review

Although Allan Holdsworth's compositions, arrangements, and musicianship get even better on later albums (an amazing feat in and of itself), this is a strong official solo debut by the electric guitar extraordinaire.

This remastered edition features Holdsworth's signature atmospheric instrumentals, as well as unique vocal songs performed by frequent Holdsworth collaborator Paul Williams (Holdsworth's fellow Englishman, not to be confused with the American singer-songwriter of the same name).

In addition to Holdsworth on guitar and violin, the tight band includes Paul Carmichael on bass and Gary Husband on drums and piano.

Holdsworth's virtuosic artistry and distinct fusion of jazz, rock, and new age, and the stellar performances of his solid rhythm section, make this album an appetite-whetting harbinger of greater things to come.

--Raj Manoharan

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Man Who Changed Guitar Forever! The Allan Holdsworth Album Collection (2017), by Allan Holdsworth

CD Fan Review

I had forgotten what an amazing and awesome guitarist and composer Allan Holdsworth was. Thanks to the two-disc Eidolon: The Allan Holdsworth Collection and the 12-disc box set, both released just a week before Holdsworth's untimely and unfortunate passing at the age of 70, I have realized the error of my ways and been set back upon the correct path.

In addition to most of the 28 tracks personally selected by Holdsworth for the Eidolon collection, my other favorite tunes from among his 97-song catalog include the following: "Atavachron," "Sand," "Clown," "Joshua," "Wardenclyffe Tower," "Zarabeth," "Questions," "The Un-Merry Go Round Part 5," "Prelude," and "Hard Hat Area."

That said, all of Holdsworth's solo work is outstanding, especially if you love electric guitar in the context of jazz, rock, new age, and fusion.

Holdsworth clearly had more inspiration left in him, as he was recently working on his first new studio album in well over a decade. Hopefully his family will see fit to finish and release it.

In any event, the double CD and the box set serve as lasting reminders of Holdsworth's artistic excellence and purity.

Holdsworth may no longer be with us in body, but his "eidolon" will remain forever through his brilliant, one-of-a-kind music.

--Raj Manoharan

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Adios (2017), by Glen Campbell

CD Fan Review

Glen Campbell, who is in the final stages of Alzheimer's Disease, recorded this, his final studio album, in 2012 just after his diagnosis, and it is among his finest efforts.

Although the photography features Campbell posing with one of his guitars, Campbell leaves the instrumentation to others, most notably his long-time banjo player Carl Jackson, who produced the album and plays guitar, and Campbell's daughter Ashley, who plays banjo and accompanies and backs up her father on vocals. The album also features Campbell's sons Cal and Shannon and guests Willie Nelson and Vince Gill.

This allows the elder Campbell to focus on singing, and he really gives it his all. It would be a cliche to say he has never sounded better, but at the very least, his voice is as wide-ranging, nuanced, and poignant as ever, especially in light of – and in spite of – his personal struggles.

The songs are all excellent, making the album a pleasure to listen to from beginning to end and over and over again. I have developed a particular fondness for "Everybody's Talkin'," "Postcards from Paris," and "A Thing Called Love."

Adios is so good that you wish this wasn't the end. But it's a fitting farewell, as well as a lasting reminder of how good of a musician, singer, and all-around entertainer Glen Campbell was.

--Raj Manoharan