With a work ethic that would embarrass an inner-city lawyer, Ben Granfelt has worked with numerous bands, including Wishbone Ash, and released eleven albums under his own name alone. The Finnish guitarist is a musician who makes music, first and foremost, for himself and his passion and dedication is not only clearly evident on the album’s ten tracks but also in the fact that Ben sold his beloved ’63 Strat (pictured on the album cover) in order to pay for the recording sessions for the album. With a cast of nine musicians (all of whom played on the album for free) adding their distinctive sounds to the album, ‘Melodic relief’ neatly genre hops around the various interests of the artists and the result is a fluid, ever-changing record that constantly challenges the listener with new sounds and ideas. Actually released in 2012, the album seemed to be largely overlooked in that year, and is now gaining a whole new round of promotion and deservedly so – if you missed out on this the first time round, now is the time to rectify that mistake.
Opening track ‘El Gringos Revenge’ (originally mooted for, and rejected by, Los Bastardos Finlandeses) is a belting opener, packed with hard hitting riffs – indeed, so many that the reason for its rejection by Los Bastardos was that the song contained more riffs than that band had planned for the whole album! It’s a great introduction to Ben’s sublime playing and it’s heavy enough to satisfy hard rock fans in search of an adrenalin fix with a progressive touch. ‘Oh yeah’ has a more laid-back groove in an AC/DC vein, the stuttering riff that underpins the track giving way to a shamelessly melodic chorus that would undoubtedly tear up radio stations everywhere if it had a commercially-friendly vocal attached to it. That it doesn’t, however, is a blessing for guitar lovers everywhere because it allows Ben’s stunning fretwork to take the floor and the result is a brilliant slice of hard driving rock, perfect for blasting down open highways to. ‘GTR Tech’ maintains the brisk pace and sees Ben trading solos with Thomas Blug on a track that goes knocking on Jeff Beck’s ever-open door for inspiration. With solos that have the hair standing up on the back of the neck, you’d imagine the guitars carry the day, but the wonderful fretless bass of Lauri Porra is surely worth equal footing, as Ben clearly recognises, stripping the music back to allow Lauri the chance to unleash his own solo on the track. Such generosity is not always common in the instrumental world, and it highlights just how much of a team effort ben considers this release to be.
The first track to slow things down is the beautifully jazzy ‘still waiting’ with its rich, Clapton vibe and lush keyboards (courtesy of Tero Pennanen who plays on the whole album but who excels here) taking the listener to a warm, quiet place, although we’re soon back on the road with the crunchy riffs of the title track. Featuring Thomas Blug once again, the track digs a heavy blues rock vibe with a melodic edge, recalling Steve Lukather’s post Toto work, and Ben’s melodic chorus really emphasises the grit of the verse. It’s wonderful to listen to the two guitar masters swapping licks, and the result is not unlike the brilliant collaborations witnessed at Clapton’s Crossroads festivals. ‘Back in time’ has a hard rock vibe, while the solos take their time to unwind over the frenetic backdrop recalling the mellifluous work of Sonny Landreth. ‘The riff song’ is perfectly named, and it’s one of those hair-down, pedal-to-the-metal tracks that gets the blood racing. ‘GMT’ (or Gary Moore tribute) captures the feel of its titular hero and adopts the soulful vibe that was so unique in Gary’s playing, recalling the melodic beauty of ‘midnight blues’ with a touch of Dave Gilmour’s solo work thrown in for good measure. ‘New 7’ was actually cut in 2009 before personal problems got in the way and features Andy Powell and Muddy Manninen both blazing away on the guitar. It’s a great track and leads the listener to the gently progressive album closer ‘because we still can’, another instrumental that touches on Jeff Beck
As we’ve noted on these pages before, instrumental rock is a genre that can so easily be undone by an excess of ego that the very name tends to turn listeners off before they given an album a chance. The exceptions, when they appear, are usually spectacular. Examples include Joe Satriani’s often mind-blowing work, or the recent EP by Julia Kosterova, and to this short list must surely be added Ben Granfelt. The secret of Ben’s artistry is not just his outstanding ability upon the guitar (and his playing surely is a thing of Faustian wonder) but also his understanding of when to hold back, allowing the song to flow without being buried under a torrent of blazing lead work. Moreover he never allows himself to lose control, always giving plenty of opportunity to the other musicians to shine on the record and the result is that the album feels like a genuine collaboration rather than a master widdling away over a group of hired hands. The distinction is an important one and it results in ‘Melodic relief’ being an album that is an absolute pleasure to listen to from first to last, never getting tired or dull, effortlessly engaging the listener both with the wonderful musicianship and an intrinsic sense of melody.