Tuesday, February 20, 2018

With a Heart in My Song (1988), by Allan Holdsworth and Gordon Beck

Allan Holdsworth’s synthaxe and guitar + Gordon Beck’s keyboards and synthesizers = Pure, joyous, electronic bliss, full of rhythm, new age, and all that jazz.

Brilliant, beautiful, and bewitching, it is one of the best albums of all time.

Bravo!

--Raj Manoharan

‘Igginbottom’s Wrench (1969, 2000), by Allan Holdsworth and Friends

Originally released under the group name ‘Igginbottom, this rarity was reissued under the name Allan Holdsworth and Friends after Holdsworth rose to prominence as a fusion guitarist in the ensuing decades.

While it may not be of interest to most, the album is noteworthy for two main reasons – it is the recording debut of Holdsworth, and it is the only release to feature Holdsworth singing, certainly at least for the entire length of the LP.

Beyond that, the music sounds like what you would expect from an English jazz/pop/rock quartet from the period – groovy rhythms, lofty lyrics, hypnotic vocals, and transcendental musicianship.

However, while Holdsworth’s songwriting is nowhere near as complex as the songs he wrote and recorded in the 1980s and sung by others, the intensity of his playing is there from the beginning, even in his early 20s.

Holdsworth’s demonically speedy jazz chops definitely set him and his superbly talented Friends (guitarist and vocalist Steven Robinson, bassist Mick Skelly, and drummer Dave Freeman) apart from others of their ilk and time.

A highlight of the album is “Golden Lakes,” which is basically a template for the title track of Holdsworth’s unofficial solo debut seven years later, Velvet Darkness – but with vocals!

This is definitely a must-have for die-hard Allan Holdsworth purists, as well as those with a fondness for avant-garde music of the era.

--Raj Manoharan

All Night Wrong (2002), by Allan Holdsworth

Of Allan Holdsworth’s two live albums, this one for some reason didn’t make it into the 2017 12-CD Allan Holdsworth box set, but that doesn’t make this entry any less worthy (Holdsworthy?) of the attention of Holdsworth and jazz/rock fusion guitar fans.

Although this is Holdsworth’s first live album, the performance on it actually comes 12 years after the 1990 gig documented on the 2003 release, Then! So, taken together, both albums provide a good comparison of two Holdsworth shows in Tokyo, Japan, over a decade apart – first when Holdsworth was 44 and then when he was 56.

In contrast to the fiery, energetic, and hard-rocking 1990 concert, the 2002 set is laid back, relaxed, and softer sounding. However, the more mellow nature by no means means that Holdsworth is resting on his laurels. While the music is more jazz-oriented, Holdsworth’s hands and fingers (and highly advanced intellect, no doubt) are as busy as ever, working those frets frenetically and frantically like nobody’s business but nevertheless making it seem effortless and easy breezy.

Ably assisting the maestro onstage are bassist Jimmy Johnson and drummer Chad Wackerman (Frank Zappa, Andy Summers), each of whom holds his own while at the same time laying down dope rhythms and beats and giving Holdsworth a solid foundation over which to thread his six-string savvy. There is one bandleader and three stars here.

This recording deserves as much of a spot in one’s collection as any of the other discs in the box set and the two-CD retrospective, and Holdsworth fans and fusion guitar enthusiasts will be sweetly rewarded for making it so.

--Raj Manoharan

Monday, January 22, 2018

Velvet Darkness (1976, 2017), by Allan Holdsworth

Allan Holdsworth’s unofficial first solo album is far, far better than the legendary master guitarist ever gave it credit for being, proving that the artist certainly was his own worst critic.

Recorded in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, in 1976 when Holdsworth was 29 going on 30 (and I was a 3-year-old toddler driving my parents insane across the river in Washington Heights, Manhattan), this historically important rarity provides a window into the past for a unique look at a genius in the making (at least in terms of being a solo artist).

Even at this early, nascent stage, Holdsworth delivers dazzling displays of virtuosity on electric and acoustic guitars and violin, backed by a spry musical ensemble including Alan Pasqua on keyboards, Alphonso Johnson on bass, and Narada Michael Walden on drums.

While the album doesn’t have the glossy, high-tech sheen of Holdsworth’s forward-looking work from the 1980s and beyond, it stands as a masterpiece of punk funk fusion (assuming anything else at the time qualifies as such).

--Raj Manoharan

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Collage (2017), by Eric Johnson

The veteran Texan guitarist's first solo electric guitar studio album since 2010's fiery Up Close marks a fine return to form and the classic Eric Johnson sound.

This is a more laid back and relaxed affair, with a nice mix of instrumentals and vocals and covers and originals, blending jazz and rock with hints of new age.

But don't let the mellow atmosphere fool you – Johnson's playing is as nimble and seamless as ever, with clean, crisp tones and lightning-fast lead lines.

And Johnson's eternally youthful vocals are still so smooth and silky even at 63 years of age.

Standout tracks include Stevie Wonder's "Up Tight (Everything's Alright)," The Beatles' "We Can Work It Out," and The Ventures' "Pipeline," and Johnson's "Morning Sun," "The Fade," and "To Whom It May Concern."

Collage is proof positive that after forty-plus years in the music business, Eric Johnson's still got it.

--Raj Manoharan

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Happy Birthday, Andy Summers!

On Sunday, December 31, 2017, Andy Summers – my favorite guitarist and musician of all time – turns 75 years old.

I first became acquainted with the music of Summers in 1983 at the age of 10 in a Catholic elementary school classroom when I heard a hypnotic and futuristic-sounding pop/rock song emanating from the radio of Candy, my substitute teacher. When I asked what the song was and who recorded it, I was promptly informed that it was “Spirits in the Material World” by The Police. I was instantly hooked, so much so that that Christmas, my parents got me a vinyl copy of Synchronicity, The Police’s fifth and final studio album and one of the biggest hits of the year. The Police have since remained my favorite rock band of all time.

Summers was the guitarist for the mega-popular group, who were active in the late 1970s and early 1980s and reunited for a 30th anniversary tour in 2007 and 2008. Being a good decade older than his bandmates Sting and Stewart Copeland, Summers began his professional recording career in the early 1960s, playing for Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band (which later became the psychedelic but short-lived Dantalian’s Chariot), Eric Burdon’s New Animals, and Soft Machine. After formally studying guitar at Northridge University in California from the late 1960s to the early 1970s, Summers returned to England and plied his trade as a session guitarist for Joan Armatrading, Neil Sedaka, Kevin Coyne, and Deep Purple’s Jon Lord before achieving monumental success and international stardom with The Police.

After the dissolution of The Police in the early 1980s, Summers scored some Hollywood films (Down and Out in Beverly Hills, Weekend at Bernie’s) and recorded one rock vocal album before establishing himself as an acclaimed and accomplished contemporary instrumental guitarist across a variety of styles, including jazz, fusion, New Age, and world music.

I was privileged to interview Summers by telephone in Fall 2000 for the January 2001 issue of DirecTV: The Guide. I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that Summers posted a notice of the interview in the news section of his Web site. Later, I met Summers in person during his book tour in Fall 2006, just a few months before The Police reunited for a 30th anniversary reunion tour, which I was fortunate to attend twice in August of 2007 and 2008.

For a good overview of Summers’ solo work, I highly recommend the following albums: Mysterious Barricades, A Windham Hill Retrospective, Synaesthesia, and The X Tracks. My personal favorite Summers albums are Mysterious Barricades, The Golden Wire, World Gone Strange, Synaesthesia, Earth + Sky, Fundamental (with Fernanda Takai), Circus Hero (with his rock band Circa Zero), and Triboluminescence.

--Raj Manoharan

Happy Birthday, Michael Nesmith!

On Saturday, December 30, 2017, Michael Nesmith of The Monkees (the one with the green wool hat) turns 75 years old.

Of all of The Monkees, Nesmith has had the most prolific and successful solo career. He pioneered the country-rock music format in the early to mid-1970s, founded the music and video label Pacific Arts, and basically created the concept of MTV. In addition to producing films and music videos, Nesmith also won the very first Grammy Award for Best Home Video for Elephant Parts, which later led to NBC’s short-lived Television Parts. In an interesting side note, Nesmith’s mother invented liquid paper and sold it to Gillette for a substantial fortune, which Nesmith inherited.

For a good overview of Nesmith’s solo music career, I recommend The Older Stuff, The Newer Stuff, Tropical Campfire’s, Live at the Britt Festival, Rays, and Movies of the Mind.

More information about Nesmith is available on his Web site at www.videoranch.com.

The following are links to my reviews of Nesmith's 2013 live tour and the subsequent live CD.





--Raj Manoharan