Saturday, August 7, 2010

CD Review -- Hybrid, by Bruce Kaphan

Bruce Kaphan kicks it up a notch on his second album by augmenting his already unique pedal steel guitar stylings with a full band. In addition to accompanying himself on keyboards and acoustic guitar, Kaphan is joined by other musicians on ukulele, electric guitar, bass, and drums. A string quartet also joins the proceedings.

Most listeners identify the twang of the pedal steel guitar with country and western music. Thanks to Kaphan’s creativity and originality, that perception is a thing of the past. The sound of the pedal steel guitar is still unmistakable, although Kaphan uses it in completely different contexts. For example, he plays leads and rhythms on pedal steel that are traditionally played by electric guitar.

On the standout track “Gleaming Towers,” the pedal steel sounds almost like a slow-burn electric guitar solo. However, at the same time, it also sounds like a sitar, especially with the accompaniment of tablas. While the song features elements of both Western and Indian music, it does not belong fully in either camp. Rather, it is cosmological, like much of the album.

Other memorable tunes include the rockabilly rhythms of “Loops for Larry,” the nostalgic and idyllic tones of “Legacy,” and the bright, feel-good optimism of “There But 4.”

The album has the cumulative effect of Patsy Cline wandering into the Twilight Zone, and the resulting Hybrid is exhilarating.

--Raj Manoharan

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