Friday, January 12, 2007

Jeff Beck - 'Jeff Beck's Guitar Shop'1989

Rating: 7/B

Jeff Beck's a really good guitarist - maybe he's even as good as everyone says he is - but his discography is rather uneven and patchy. His seminal hard rock outfit, the one with Ron Wood and Rod Stewart, only lasted two albums, and he doesn't seem to have stuck with one line-up or one direction for very long ever since. Also, he has a somewhat damaging, in my estimation, love for electronics, whether it's the 80s synth-pop of Flsah or the 90s electronica of Who Else. Despite all this, he has cut more than a few nifty albums from time to time, and this particular album is a good introduction to his moderately-eclectic, but largely blues/hard rock informed sound, and a certain combination of kinda-boring professionalism and constant artistic growth at his chosen instrument. Truth and Beck-Ola are much more visceral, the fusion albums possibly more sophisticated and exciting, and you may even fancy hearing a seasoned rock guitar hero dabbling with techno, but this is as good a Jeff Beck 101 piece as there is.

The band consists of Mr.Beck accompanied by Zappa-sideman Terry Bozzio on drums and keyboardist/bassist Tony Hymas. While keyboards don't overwhelm the sound, they do tend to give the album a bit of a plasticky, 80s sound at times, and the drum sound is just too studio-polished for my tastes, but this is an 80s artefact and you have to learn to mentally edit out some things to get to the music at the heart of a lot of 80s releases.

The title track has a bombastic, yet broken-up drum pattern that I have never ever warmed to, and a keyboard motif that just adds to the annoyance, but Beck is in fine form and the spoken-word bit which describes the features of a guitar with car-sales-pitch type hype is pretty amusing. For me, though, Savoy is where Jeff Beck gets down to business with a far more organic riff and groove and solos that show that time has only added nuance and technique to his patented trademark blues-rock soloing. Behind The Veil is a reggae-ish song with Beck playing figures on his guitar that would not have been out of place as a song by The Police (although Sting would have played them himself and made Andy Summers hit jazz chords at random intervals instead). Big Block begins with a driving mid-tempo bassline-led groove over which Beck plays some really smoking bluesy licks. The song gets a touch of drama as well, as Hymas' keyboards lend a touch of menace that reminds me of Tony Martin-era Sabbath, only less cheesy. I'm not a huge fan of heavenly sounding atmospherics but the delicate, tender melodies on Where Were You, played almost unaccompanied on a clean-tone electric except for some chordal backing on keyboards, are seriously sublime and haunting. And it's short too, so the prettiness doesn't have a chance to devolve into boredom! Stand On It is again driven by a great, chunky riff that makes me wish the original Jeff Beck Group could have stayed together and honed their songwriting skills to the point where riff and leads like these could have been found on heavy-rotation classic songs to rival Led Zep's, rather on relatively obscure releases like these which are doomed to be heard only by classic rock stalwarts and guitar solo addicts. Before I start getting too dewy-eyed with admiration and regret, the boys fuck things up with a rather repetitive workout which, like the title track, has a spoken word thing looping around. This time it's something laudable but annoyingly preachy and repetitive about how no one is doing anything to save Mother Earth, and a A Day In The House is where I'll usually nod off for a bit or wander to the loo while playing this album. Two Rivers is a slow, melodic track but I don't remember much about it. Then fortunately for us, Jeff Beck tears into another ferocious, speedy riff and the concise but powerful rocker Sling Shot kicks butt and shuts down the shop.

And there you go!

The Eiderdown-Stuffing Bottomline:The cold professionalism can't hide Beck's gift for crunching riffs, memorable melodies and great solos.

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