Despite his recent, adrenalin-spiked performances with Chickenfoot, Joe Satriani is a musician whose muse cannot be tapped by just one project. A genuine guitar virtuoso who has made an art form out of the solo, Joe Satriani has not only taught some of rock’s biggest names but also founded the astounding G3 series of concerts which has seen artists such as Steve Vai, Steve Morse, Robert Fripp and John Petrucci light up the stage alongside the ever-present Satriani to great critical acclaim. ‘Unstoppable momentum’ is Satriani’s fourteenth solo album in twenty-seven years and it shows that the master has not run out of tricks yet as he displays his not inconsiderable talents over eleven impressive works that run from full-on rock to creamy jazz fusion, even throwing in some hot and steamy funk when he thinks no one’s looking.
Whether you enjoy ‘unstoppable momentum’ or not entirely depends on your predilection for instrumental albums designed primarily as a showcase for immense skill. For those who prefer a more structured, song-based approach, then the sweat and testosterone of Chickenfoot is a better bet as there is plenty of opportunity to admire Satriani’s sublime skills within that more traditionally rock context. However, for those who have admired Satriani’s previous solo work, or whose tastes run to the likes of Sonny Landreth or John Mclaughlin, ‘Unstoppable momentum’ is liable to be 2013’s instrumental record of choice. Joined by Mike Keneally (warm textures on the keyboards), Chris Chaney (utterly outstanding on bass) and Vinnie Colaiute (mind-numbingly brilliant on drums), Joe Satriani demonstrates a fluid grace on the guitar that often leaves you awe-struck as his rich tones shimmer and spread across the music of his band.
Opening with the title track, it’s clear form the off that Satriani is not going to make it too easy to follow. A jazz beat is overlaid with lightning strikes of guitar that ripple and slip over the surface of the tune, the band crafting a rich and detailed backdrop for Satriani’s wild excursions that is strangely hypnotic. ‘Can’t go back’ is more traditionally fusion based, the thudding bass keeping the pace steady even whilst Satriani’s guitar takes on a warm, even sensuous tone that is delightfully slinky. Here Mike’s keyboards form an essential part of the track, adding melody and texture that is as subtle as it is necessary, and Joe’s increasingly frantic workouts on the fret-board allow the band the chance to break a sweat as the tempo builds. ‘Lies and truths’ is a darkly emotive track that shifts between harrowing stabs of guitar backed by a skeletal drum beat and a more textured orchestral vein, only to be followed by the brilliantly incongruous ‘three sheets to the wind’ which takes the whimsical sound of a village big band and intercuts it with the wild soloing of Zakk Wylde on a three day bender in the forest. It’s an absolutely belting track, and if you only make the effort to hear one song off the album, you best make it this one because it never fails to raise a smile.
Possibly the most emotional track on the album, ‘I’ll put a stone on your cairn’ evokes images of the wild heather growing undisturbed in the very heart of the Scottish highlands. If Satriani’s skills were ever in doubt, the remarkable imagery the man can conjure with his guitar on this beautifully brief track should cement his reputation forever as one of rock’s leading guitarists. ‘A door into summer’ sees the heavy atmosphere dispelled in a flash, to be replaced by a song that is as rich and welcome as passing from the shadows of a cold building out into the warmth of a summer’s day, your troubles slipping away as the hot rays soak into your skin. ‘Shine on American dreamer’ may have an unwieldy title but it has a driving hard rock feel that does a grand job of bringing to mind rides in open-topped cars across sun-bleached American highways and you’re struck, once again, with the notion that much of Satriani’s skill is down to the fact that it is not just the notes he plays, but the spaces he leaves between them that makes him so special. For sure there are moments of white hot intensity when you can picture his fingers blazing a trail of liquid fire across the fret board, but just as often his playing is restrained and subtle, thus telling far more of a story than your average gun-slinging guitar hero. The two-part ‘Jumpin’ In’ and ‘jumpin’ out’ have a hard blues feel, intercut with the complexity of jazz and even a little metal-grind, just to keep you on your toes. In contrast ‘the weight of the world’ opens as if that is exactly what Joe Satriani carries on his shoulders, only to suddenly explode into a synth led stomp that is as unexpected as it is welcome. Beautifully melodic, it carries a powerful vibe that is crucially buoyed up with hope rather than weighed down with despair, and, as if to emphasize this point, the final track is the short, sharp rock of ‘a celebration’ which combines the fireworks of every New Year’s Eve ever and crams them into one sub-three-minute song.
There will always be those who are left cold by instrumental albums, and in many cases I can see the point; poor albums in the style (of which there are, unfortunately many) need not be technically bad to bore the proverbial pants off of the listener, rather, too many emphasize instrumental prowess at the expense of emotion and feel. Joe Satriani makes no such mistake. His playing is warm and rife with emotion, his ability to convey a mood or image with just a few notes as important, if not more so, than his ability to scrawl his name across the fret board of his guitar using only the heat from his hyperactive fingers. As you would imagine from so experienced a player, the production (handled by Mike Fraser) is spot on, detailed and full of dynamic thrust allowing the songs and their various moods to shine, whilst Joe’s band is first rate. With songs that are cleverly constructed to convey a single mood or feel, ‘Unstoppable momentum’ is never dull or over-played – if you have ever admired the work of Joe Satriani in the past then this is an album you cannot afford to miss, whilst if you are new to this unassailable master of his craft then this is the perfect introduction – it is glorious.
Joe Satriani’s new album “Unstoppable Momentum” is released by Epic Records/Sony Music.
UK tour starts June 8th. Tickets: www.ticketline.co.uk, 0844 888 9991. Special guest is Matt Schofield.
Manchester o2 Apollo (June 8)
Glasgow Royal Concert Hall (June 9)
Newcastle City Hall (June 10)
Liverpool Philharmonic Hall (June 11)
Bristol Colston Hall (June 12)
Wolverhampton Civic Hall (June 13)
Sheffield City Hall (June 15)
Portsmouth Guildhall (June 16)
London o2 Shepherds Bush Empire (June 17)
London indigo2 (June 18).