Saturday, May 21, 2016

Michael Nesmith’s Guitar Playing on The Monkees Album Justus

If anyone thinks that The Monkees have no musical abilities beyond being pretty faces and pretty voices, their 1996 reunion album Justus should put those doubts to rest.

The record is their first written, produced, and performed entirely by themselves, and they function as an extremely tight unit. All four of them do a great job on their instruments – Micky Dolenz on drums, Davy Jones on percussion, Peter Tork on bass and keyboards, and Michael Nesmith on guitars.

The real revelation here is Nesmith, who, aside from playing acoustic rhythm guitar as a solo singer-songwriter and leaving the fancy stuff to his backing bands, has dabbled over the years as an electric guitarist.

But here, in addition to playing acoustic rhythm guitar, Nesmith totally lets loose with rip-roaring electric guitar leads, riffs, and solos, proving himself adept in a variety of styles from pop and rock to progressive and new wave.

Listening to Nesmith grind his axe on Justus makes me wish that he had done more guitar-based instrumentals on his own albums, or even entire guitar-based instrumental albums, especially since as a vocalist he’s more prone to generally laid-back, country-style crooning (although he can really belt out some tunes when he wants to).

Heck, Nesmith still has time to record at least one guitar-based instrumental album if he so desires, as he is still very agile and active at this stage of his life.

But Justus will have to do for now – as it has for the last 20 years – as the one definitive showcase of what Nesmith is really capable of as a six- (and more)-string shredder.

Plus, Justus is a very good Monkees album.

--Raj Manoharan

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