Style: instrumental, hard rock, heavy metal
Members: J.D. Bradshaw ~ guitars/bass
David Parks ~ drums
Instrumental albums are always a bit of a challenge for the listener because, if not more than any other album, they are sticklers for my old rule of thumb that one should listen to an album at least twice before commenting on it ... something a lot of reviewers don't do, by the way. On first listen you get the initial impact, while discovering if it does/does not meet your expectations, while the second listen is where you start to hear the subtlety & the album as it really is. Sometimes it might even sound like a different album. The shock of the impact of the first listen is full of judgments about whether the album is good or bad that are often more reflective of one's opinions/expectations than the music itself. Instrumental guitar albums, whether Steve Vai or Jeff Beck or Charlie Christian or Pepe Romero, might be more difficult in some ways as one is apt to hear, in the first listen, just standard riffing & naught else, particularly if the guitarist uses the same tone throughout the album, that leads to an unflattering conclusion. While its generally easy to play a solo, or some semblance of, it's difficult to make that solo melodically go somewhere, while even the greatest guitar players get lost in the technical aspects of playing & minutes later are still at homebase having shown off everything they can do with all the fireworks without actually playing anything. Plus, guitar riffing has the most stringent judge - does it make the listener want to play air guitar to it? By the title of his album alone rock guitarist JD Bradshaw is setting his listener up for a musical challenge & he surely knows it. He also knows that if one does meet the air guitar challenge it'll be a Rock Band-esque workout for the fingers ... guitar aerobics plus. Bradshaw, as a guitar teacher, knows that playing guitar is more than just creating sounds but actually going somewhere & thus makes that the theme of his fourth release, also demonstrated by the thematically titled tracks "High On The Inside", "Quarter Mile Fix", "Blacktop Fade" & "Thrill Of The Chase". With fairly basic rhythms providing a distractionless foundation for his playing, Bradshaw lets the notes rip with fires blazing in the mold of Vai, Satriani & others of that ilk. Some like to erroneously label this the Berkeley School of playing due to its heavy handed approach that pulls together both rhythm & lead playing seemingly into the same riff for something that might be a flash of notes up & down the fretboard but at the same time has some melodic structure that makes it more than just a long solo. Though, on first listen, the listener might only hear one long solo. I'll confess I was fooled & failed the challenge. Bradshaw opens with fireworks crackling on "High On The Inside" & what happened is that I heard the same fireworks on the following three songs. But, on repeated listens I realized that while the first fireworks might be made in China featuring dragons & planet shapes in quick bright bursts, the following are handmade Cherokee fireworks that crackle lightly then shimmer slowly. What I didn't hear on that first listen is just how different & even at times ballady the other songs on the album are compared to the opener. They also have much more intricate rhythms ... though the repetative rhythm section is probably the greatest weakness of the album as at times I want the rest of the music to equal the guitar playing but the rhythm just doesn't have the same level of dynamics & ends up more becoming a backing track than a union at moments. "Blacktop Fade" with long notes in the solo, a decent bassline & a reverb heavy rhythm comes the closest to fixing this. On second listen one hears much more textured guitar playing, Steve Vai fans ears up, though one should give it an undistracted listen to see how Bradshaw manages to flawlessly weave between rhythms, melodies & solos. Waiting At The Finish Line might be a game of speed but at the same time the key is in the waiting. No matter how fast a runner goes one still has to wait & there's plenty to enjoy in this lull, though one is tempted to picture what the big crossing will look like missing the lull. I imaged I heard the crossing with the first song & missed the waiting time ... when everyone knows that the its common for runners to burst out fast & then slow down for the long haul.
(featured on the Roman Midnight Music Podcast: episode 33 "Interview: J.D. Bradshaw," October 2011, click here to listen)