Steve

Steve

Music Columnist

Something Old, Something New Album Review

I wasn't sure what direction I wanted to go for Something Old, Something New Album Review Ep 5. With the recent Grammy controversy surrounding the treatment, or pretty much non treatment of Eddie Van Halens death, I figured it out; Guitar.

Now if you’ve followed along with my columns, I’ve said it before, sure I’m just about 40 years old, but I don’t want to be a “Get off my lawn” or “Old man yells at cloud” type of guy. When I was younger my parents didn’t understand some of the music I listened to. Sometimes, without paying it any attention at all. While I’ll be honest and say most of the new popular music I hear is garbage, I at least try to understand it. While not something I’ve gone back to yet, a few columns ago I reviewed Billie Eilish and I could at least appreciate it, in fact even enjoyed it in spots. The Grammy awards are basically an irrelevant circle jerk. Example; Beyoncé’s 8 year old daughter getting a Grammy. They have progressively been getting it wrong since the 60’s (google some of the groups that won over the Beatles, as well as the famous Jethro Tull/Metallica incident). I am not the type that gets angry over irrelevant stuff, HOWEVER, whenever they have a chance to somewhat redeem themselves, they fail. Their “tribute” to Eddie Van Halen, one of the two most important and recognizable guitar players of all time (the other of course Jimi Hendrix), a man who revotionized guitar playing and rock music and thrust it into the modern era, was a 15 second video clip with his guitar sitting on stage. That’s it. They did ask his son Wolfgang to play his famous “Eruption” guitar solo, but Wolfgang understandably did not feel comfortable doing that. Predictably, as every award show has been suffering from lower ratings year after year, the Grammy’s had their lowest ratings ever. Maybe it’s because the audience they are supposed to be targeting, would rather watch TikTok’s than a 3-hour award show? Who knows. I for one, did not watch it because I knew the only part I would be interested in, they’d screw up, as they did. So here we go with a couple of albums featuring brilliant guitar players. 

Gary Clark Jr. – This Land
2019 Warner Bros. Records
Rating: 4/5
 
Gary Clark Jr. is an artist I’ve wanted to do a deep dive on for a long time. Blues is one of my favorite genres and Gary Clark Jr. is really unique in his songwriting and performance. At his core, he is an absolutely stunning guitar player. Blues guitar playing isn’t really about playing fast or complicated, but putting emotion into the notes. Sadness, joy, anger, pain, a real bluesman can convey all these without singing a word. What makes Gary Clark Jr. unique however is he absolutely can do that, but he also mixes in all of his influences to do it with. While his music is blues based, there are elements of rock, hip hop and soul as well. His 2019 release; This Land is his most adventurous to date. The best track on the album is the ferocious lead single and title track, This Land. The song is about racism in contemporary America and was inspired by the true story of Gary buying a ranch in Texas for his family to live on and having a racist neighbor question why he was there and if he could afford it. It’s got some fantastic guitar playing over an almost hip hop drum beat. After that, this album goes basically everywhere. “Don’t Wait Till Tomorrow” is a nice spin on R&B, “Gotta Get Into Something” has a great 70’s punk rock vibe, “Feed The Babies” combines horns with some rock guitar making almost a slower funk track, and “Feeling Like A Million” incorporates a reggae feel. Yeah, this album goes everywhere. And everything is delivered with his earnest vocals that convince you that he is FEELING what he’s saying.
The only drawback for me with such an ambitious album is that once you get into a track, the next one is different. It doesn’t give you a chance to settle in. As an art piece, it’s astounding, but as an album, it lacks that traditional cohesiveness that makes me settle in for a long listen. Overall, Gary Clark Jr. is still one of the most intruiging songwriters and guitar players of the last 2 decades.
 
Van Halen – Van Halen
1978 Warner Bros. Records
Rating: 5/5
 
This one is a no brianer. This article was prompted by the snub to Eddie Van Halen, so how do I not review his greatest triumph, the debut album from Van Halen. This album came out 4-years before I was born but in all the research I’ve done, and talking to both fans and working musicians, there were two distinct times in rock music. Before Van Halen and After Van Halen. In the 1960’s guitar playing was being taken to places it had never been before. By bluesmen like BB King, Muddy Waters, and young cats like Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. But then Jimi Hendrix came out and blew the doors off of everyone. Most people assumed that was as far as guitar could be taken as an instrument. For the most part, and for almost 10-years, they were right. Now there were great players in that time, lots of them. But nobody reimagined how the instrument was played. Then on February 10, 1978 an album dropped that changed music forever. The debut record from Pasadena California’s Van Halen is such a watershed moment in music history, I can’t describe it properly in just a couple of paragraphs. But, I’ll do my best. While every track on the album is classic, it’s the absolute definition of “All Killer, No Filler“, the pairing that launched Van Halen to rock stardom was the guitar solo “Eruption” leading into the monstrous cover of the Kinks classic “You Really Got Me”. “Eruption” was like nothing before it. Played with blinding speed, Eddie introduced the world to a new guitar technique called “Finger tapping”, in which instead of the guitar player pressing a string down to the fretboard with one hand and plucking the string with a pick with the other, he uses both hands on the neck of the guitar to do what is called a “hammer on” which is forcefully tapping a string to a fret to create a note, then a “pull off“, which is pulling your finger off the string creating another note. And he did this very quickly creating a flurry of notes played faster than any player could do before him. Rumor has it that at Van Halen’s live shows before they got signed, he would play with his back to the audience so nobody could copy this technique.

In the 1 minute and 42 seconds of “Eruption“, Eddie completely rewrote how the guitar was played. Following that, their cover of “You Really Got Me” was another watershed moment. Putting those famous fingers to work again through his modified amplifiers, Eddie’s famous “Brown Sound” guitar tone transformed the Kinks classic into an absolute ripper, and one of the greatest cover songs of all time. And while Eddie’s contributions were massive, the rest of the band could hold their own. Eddie’s brother Alex on drums was a ferocious hard hitting player in the vein of John Bonham. He beat his drums like they insulted his mother, but he also played with a “swing” very few drummers can match. Michael Anthony provided the ying to Eddies yang on bass, providing smooth in the pocket basslines, while also delivering possibly the greatest backup vocals in rock history. And David Lee Roth. While Diamond Dave has evolved into a cornball, back then he was about 50% talent and 50% attitude, which was not a bad thing. He could sing adequately but brought such a piss and vinegar attitude to his vocals that it matched Eddie’s guitar playing perfectly. I could imagine in the months that followed the release of this album, lots of guitar players locked themselves in bedrooms with copies of this record, or pretty much just quit playing altogether. Every song on this record is classic. From the iconic thumping bass intro to “Runnin’ with the Devil“, to the instantly recognizable oft sampled guitar riff to “Jamie’s Cryin“, some great fast rockers in “I’m The One” and “Atomic Punk“, the whimsical “Ice Cream Man” to the hidden gem “Little Dreamer“, where Eddie shows that along with blazing speed, he can pull emotion out of the guitar as well. Now I have never claimed to be an expert on todays popular music, but I do know 2 Facts; one, Eddie Van Halen Halen completely changed the way people looked at the guitar and two, this album sold 10 MILLION COPIES IN THE US ALONE. If there was an artist on the Grammy’s this year that had that kind of influence or popularity, I failed to see it. Eddie deserved better.

 

Thanks again for reading! As always, if you have suggestions for future articles, find and follow me on Instagram at @Stevedestruct. 

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