By David Lowry
Having had the pleasure of interviewing Andy Timmons a couple times on my radio show and soon to be a third, meeting him, watching him perform live one of the most amazing displays or guitar virtuosity I have ever seen and having been a fan since his Danger Danger days, I was really looking forward to the release of “Sgt. Pepper.” I wanted to see what Andy was going to bring to the table that could top his previous efforts. After all, when you are one of the most highly touted guitar players in the world, the bar is set pretty high for everything you do. I am pleased to say that Andy never lets me down and has surprised and delighted my ears once again. His interpretation of the classic Beatles “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” is simply one of the finest guitar instrumental albums if not the finest guitar instrumental album I have ever heard.
Andy brings a new life to an old classic that for many of us is very iconic and very set in a place and time in our lives. No one needs to state the importance of the Beatle’s music in pop music culture, but for Andy to risk taking on such a classic well loved album and being set up to have the “Beatles” purists take shots at him for doing this takes a lot of confidence. If you knew Andy, you know what a laid back, friendly and downright incredibly nice person he is. He always makes you feel like you have been friends forever and in so doing that, there never comes across any sense of arrogance in his demeanor in his personality or his playing that you might find with someone with such a uniquely incredible talent and skill. In saying that though, once Andy picks up a guitar, it’s like hearing it for the guitar first time again. You get those chills and that wow factor like the first time you heard Hendrix, Page or Van Halen. The ways that Andy makes his instrument sing, you completely forget there is no vocalist there. His use of tone and dynamics help to transport the listener to a new place and Andy makes statements with his playing that are so creative and refreshing to your ears, that most other guitar players vocabulary pale in comparison and the kicker is he does it without you even realizing that he is playing one guitar, no vocals, no layers and no tricks. He imparts magic in the instrument that just wraps you up like a warm blanket and delivers eargams after eargasm like you have never heard from another guitar player.
Andy’s effort on “Sgt. Pepper” is nothing less than beyond extraordinary. It is completely musical, melodic and he did it all from memory. That just boggles the mind to us average musicians. He covers 14 songs from “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,” “When I am Sixty-Four” and of course the bonus track “Strawberry Fields Forever.” This is by far one of my favorite guitar instrumental albums of all time and for sure to be a classic in the genre. If you love music, the “Beatles,” melody, guitar and listening to someone that has full command of his instrument, then this is the CD for you.
You can order “Sgt. Pepper” on Andy Timmons website www.andytimmons.com.
At the time of this writing, The Lowry Agency has no affiliation with Andy Timmons or the Andy Timmons Band.
I get the opportunity to listen to all kinds of new music, and to be honest when it comes to rock/metal over the last few years I am usually very disappointed. It seems that the art of good songwriting and melodic lines have completely gone out the window. I rarely even get to hear good playing, let alone amazing guitar solos or great vocal harmonies. So when CJ Snare, the lead singer of the Grammy award-winning rock band “Firehouse” asked me to listen to his new four song self-titled EP “Rubicon Cross” that he cowrote with “Furyon” guitarist Chris Green, I was very excited. CJ has proven in the past he knows how to write a hit song and has always excelled in the vocal department, so I had fairly high expectations when I first decided to listen to and review this EP.
I have had CJ on my radio show “Live From Music City” a number of times, he even guest hosted with me for its one year anniversary, so I wanted to make sure I was giving this a fair listen and review and not letting my personal feelings cloud my judgment. Therefore, I have taken my time and listened to this EP many, many times. With that being said, please know, I have written this review from as honest and straightforward a point of view as I can with no bias whatsoever.
The first song, “Moving On” starts with an acoustic guitar instrumental and CJ’s vocal lines setting the tone or so we think until about 50 seconds into the song when it picks up into an energetic rock song with a great guitar riff. This song does what so many of them don’t anymore; it uses dynamics very successfully and adds so much more depth and dimension to the feel and mood of the song. Chris Green’s use of space, acoustic playing remind you that there is so much more you can do with a guitar than is being done with most rock music today. The guitar tone here is perfect. It is heavy with plenty of “aunch” but also crystal clear. You can hear everything perfectly which speaks highly of Chris’s ear and the production of this song. CJ has written another lyrically solid song with a good hook and his ability to create great vocal melodies to keep the listener tuned in doesn’t fail here. The guitar solo never strays from its purpose of telling a story within a story. Chris uses octaves and melodic runs very effectively without taking away from the song or feel. Nothing about this song feels out-of-place and the overall arrangement is very strong. “Moving On” sets the tone for the rest of the EP very effectively and is a very strong effort for CJ and Chris.
Song number two, “Next Worst Enemy” starts off strong right out the gate. A heavy, fun guitar riff with a different guitar tone, and to be honest Chris’ use of varying the use of rhythmic patterns and riffs keeps the song fresh at all times. This song has “hit” written all over it, as the hook is strong! CJ brings a great growl to the song but yet keeps the vocal melodies in place and has really excelled here at bringing back the something that is missing in rock music today, fun, while not messing with the integrity of the song. It still rocks your face off and makes you want to pump your fist in the air along with it. Again Chris Green proves he belongs in the big leagues with his guitar solo. Another very melodic song within a song. He never overplays and yet shows that he has the chops to hang with anybody. That is a sign of a mature songwriter and guitar player. There is a lot to be said in that and kudos to Chris for doing exactly what the song needs and nothing else. “Next Worst Enemy” provides a great example in rhythmic syncopation, which just keeps the song punching through without ever plodding or getting lost or boring.
“R U Angry” is the third song on the EP. Starting off mellow but immediately bursting into a great rock riff then settling into a chord arpeggiation for the verse. Chris then picks it up in the pre-chorus with a faster arpeggiation before big chords, single lines and variations in the chorus. Another huge hook for the chorus with a big CJ scream sets the stage for another “I told you so” it’s all in the songwriting moment from CJ. Chris lets it all hang out in this solo. I truly wish that more guitar players would listen to Chris and learn what it means to write a great solo. Chris has brought back something sorely lacking in today’s rock music. Solos with a purpose, statement, melody and just enough flash to make you go wow! The songs are so good that sometimes you forget that they were written out of their experiences and the message shouldn’t be lost on prowess of the individuals and that is another area where CJ tops most vocalists. He keeps you engaged and emotionally tied to the songs so that you experience the meaning behind the lyrics.
“Shine” is the fourth and last song on the EP. It starts off as an acoustic ballad and harkens back to a time when songwriting was about saying something not how outrageous you can be to get attention. As good as CJ is at writing a hook, he never lets the message get lost for the sake of a hit. The song builds a bit in the second verse with addition of clean electric guitars, bass and drums. Chris plays a sweet melodic solo with the use of wah-wah pedal that thankfully sounds like someone who knows how to use it correctly. “Shine” is another solid effort from CJ and Chris that sits perfectly in their wheelhouse of good contemporary songwriting.
In summary, “Rubicon Cross” is a very good EP that should remind people of what good songwriting, talent, production and creativity should bring to the table. Every song works here, there are no filler songs taking up space. CJ and Chris have shown that they have what it takes to make great music that never goes out of style and also the chops to take their songwriting to a different level then most. That is what good song writing is, songs that paint a musical picture in one’s mind and that is exactly what “Rubicon Cross” pulls off.
You can purchase the EP here: http://ht.ly/5JTa9
Note: At the time of this writing, The Lowry Agency has no affiliation with “Rubicon Cross”, CJ Snare, Chris Green or “Furyon.”
Review of the CD “212” from Neil Zaza
Review by David Lowry
Recently I have had the pleasure of interviewing guitar virtuoso Neil Zaza on “Live From Music City,” about the release of his new CD “212.” Having known about Zaza’s work in the past, I was eager to hear the new music. In my opinion, it’s hard to find a guitar instrumentalist that has his own “voice” and composes songs and melodies in such a rare way that as a listener, you don’t need to hear a vocalist to completely enjoy the music. Zaza is that sort of guitar player. Zaza likes to play in major keys to keep the music sounding positive and happy, which I think is great, as most rock guitar players primarily play in minor tonalities. It’s a real experience to put on the headphones and be bombarded with such expressive and amazing songs.
Starting with the first track “Magnus,” Zaza pulls out all the stops. With a huge arrangement for a short song that is basically an intro, it is big, majestic and a gorgeous piece of music.
The next song “Go!” is jumped right into from the previous track and hits you with a lively beat and never lets you go! It’s like being on a rollercoaster on a clear sunny day. The melody wins here, as it keeps you singing along with it.
“King of The World” changes the feel a bit with an opening of jangly guitars and a soaring melody line that sweeps you off your feet. It is a fine, mid-tempo song with great dynamic breaks and, as always, Zaza’s tasty playing.
“Is This Wonderland?” opens with a whimsical keyboard and a softer guitar line to follow with less distortion. It leads into a more full instrumental track with a nice slow feel that makes you just want to sit back and take it all in.
“To The Moon and Back” sets you into a nice slow groove with very little instrumentation to start before coming in with some big hits. Again the melody lifts you up and takes you places that most music never will.
“Baroque Sky” opens with a melancholy feel before pulling you in with very deep melodic tones and big guitar chords. Zaza never allows the music to do anything but keep you totally enthralled with what the melody line is doing. The chorus builds with huge guitars and ascending notes and brings you back down gently to let your ears appreciate what they just experienced.
“If This is Goodbye” starts with a single jangly guitar and simple melody line. With a bit more of a bluesy feel, it’s a departure from the other tracks and so tastefully done. The organ provides a nice back drop for the guitar to play against, the rhythm perfectly in the pocket. Then Bam! Out of nowhere comes Zaza with a huge melody line. His use of dynamics is the sign of a great arranger and it shows on this song.
“Wild Horses” comes in with a drum groove and a drone guitar before the melody accompanies it. It’s very simple and beautiful. Arpeggiated guitars fill it out and the song gets a boost from the rhythm section. Zaza’s use of laying guitars stands out and the melody provides a bounce in your step for this fun stop. With flashes of speed and mostly just really well played melody lines, “Wild Horses” makes you feel like you are out there with them.
“The Beauty” starts with a finger picked clean guitar and Zaza laying a melody line over it with just a touch more gain. The song lives up to its name as it lulls you in with a sweet soft melody and then brings you up to a new height with its chorus. Harmony lines peppered throughout this song complete this beautiful romantic piece and makes you want to take that special someone for a long walk and remember why you are with them in the first place.
Next up is a cover of The Police’s “Message In A Bottle” which is a refreshing take on the original. While a bit of a heavier feel, it’s very playful and never loses the sense of what the original brought. Zaza captures the melody perfectly, you don’t miss the vocals at all. This is very well done and shows just how well he is able to capture the spirit of the song and make it even better!
Finally, Zaza gives us his version of Ah-Ha’s “Take On Me.” A fun cover that actually made me like this song again after all the overplay it got. He has a knack for taking familiar songs and making them very fresh and exciting.
In summary, “212” is an outstanding musical effort from Neil Zaza. Mr. Zaza is the type of player that knows exactly what to play, when to play it and never over does it. He is incredibly melodic and a very mature songwriter and each song on this CD showcases that. One of the best instrumental albums I have heard in years and on par with the other greats of this genre such as Andy Timmons, Joe Satriani and Steve Vai. 5 out of 5 stars!
Note: At the time of this writing, The Lowry Agency has no affiliation with Neil Zaza.