Welcome to the musical meandering insights of Aaron Joy, aka the Joyful Gadfly! Musician, podcaster, writer, historian ... here you'll find 600 reviews of CDs & DVDs of rock & metal in all its variations, mainstream & indie. What they all share is that the album is unique in some way. Please share these reviews or link to them if you like what you read. Reviews are no longer being posted here but feel free to e-mail Aaron & post comments. (Formerly the Roman Midnight Music Blog)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Steve Vai ~ The 7th Song (comp)

(Click on heading to visit official website.)
style: hard rock, instrumental
Label: Epic
Year: 2000
Home: California

Members: Steve Vai ~ guitars/keyboards/vocals
Guests: Mike Keneally, Tommy Mars, Scott Collard ~ keyboards
Devin Townsend ~ vocals
T.M. Stevens, Stu Hamm, Philip Bynne, Bryan Beller ~ bass
Terry Bozzio, Mike Mangini, Gregg Bissonette, Tris Imboden, Deen Castronovo, Pete Zeldman ~ drums


In terms of solo instrumental guitarists when I was younger I was into Joe Satriani as he was the chart-topper at the time, inheriting the title from Yngwie Malmsteen who had already gotten lost to his own brand of classical meets rock oblivion. But, as I've gotten older I've found myself getting into Satriani's once student SV. Ironically, I first heard SV while living in Japan as my housemate was into the B'z as the guitarist guests on a SV album. With an interest in Japanese music & how it relates to American music I had my first taste of SV. He stayed in my memory as sounding different than what I was used to, but didn't pursue him further due to being in the midst of a jazz/blues phase with a little Tom Waits & Sophie B. Hawkins thrown in. Today, as a collector of guitarist Al Pitrelli I find myself returning to Vai as the two often cross paths via the shared Berkeley education & the same albums. SV got his start in the Frank Zappa band which would set the stage for a career of something different & often challenging ... what I had picked up ia the B'z. He'd later replace Yngwie in Alcatrazz with Rainbow's Graham Bonnet on their under-rated third album before touring with Billy Sheehan as part of David Lee Roth's first solo band. He'd go on to join Whitesnake & create a seven string guitar now a somewhat regular sight in rock. For me, Satriani is a rocker, Yngwie a speed freak show-off but Vai is often the most emotional & with the widest range of experimentation. Because of this he might even be the most challenging to listen to & in turn the most rewarding. SV will let a note hang in the air forever like an old blues guy or run a fast scale in a prog-rock composition. He's more than just a guitarist's guitarist but someone trying to bring guitar playing to new levels. The 7th Song (Enchanting Guitar Melodies Archives Vol. 1) compilation, his first compilation album & the first of four entries in the Archives series of fairly obscure tracks, shows the note hanging in the air side of SV. Presenting a more mystical face to creating music than his peers, SV has made it a habit to always make the seventh song on his albums the melodic rocker. The 7th Song brings many of these seventh songs together with a few other pieces to show the melodic star-gazing side of SV. The linear notes say upfront that this collection forms a reflection of his desire for spiritual communion. We've come to not expect such insights from rock stars, or at least not something sounding so unpretentious & egotistical & in turn almost unsettling. With opener "For The Love Of God", from Passion & Warfare, featuring Indian tamboura-esque drones there's no question that this is an slow esoteric journey & not just a rock guitar attack. SV takes us on a journey using seemingly simple soaring guitar lines gliding slowly like calm waves & sometimes occasionally rushing towards the shore. Satriani is known for overdubbing guitar over guitar but SV often keeps to one guitar & just lets the notes come in an almost goal-less improvised sounding fashion. I'm reminded of the playing of jazz great Mahavishnu John McLaughlin, such as in his One Truth Band or with Devadip Carlos Santana & Alice Coltrane. He is another guitarist interested in a journey that's not about verse, verse, chorus, verse, bridge & lots of annoying vocals with cheap lyrics cluttering up the voice of the guitar. Though, it takes great skill to keep the guitar talking instrumental after instrumental & have the conversation not sound forced or boring. SV has the skill in spades maybe more than his peers who often get more technical than expressive. Most of the songs on this release were recorded in different surroundings & line-ups between 1984 & 1990, but the instrumentation is generally very simple via duos & quartets & extremely uncluttered almost as if the songs are demos. "Burnin' Down The Mountain" is a first take, so for some songs demo might not be far off the path, but a demo requires a new song to be made & that's not the case here. Even where there's multiple overdubbed guitars the result sounds like a single instrument that's just able to say two words at once like the Tibetan chanting monks (for example, "Touching Tongues") not dueling guitars as has come to be the expected norm in a solo instrumental rock guitar outing. Further, all the tracks sound like they came out of the same session, thus giving The 7th Song a cohesive sound not typical to compilations. This is mostly because the bands are without doubt taking a backseat to SV. These songs come from his solo albums & thus its about him & not about a group. Whitesnake is one place to go if you want that side of SV or any sense of band interplay. Most of the songs get a bit of background info in the linear notes showing SV as a more complicated person than many musicians present themselves as. He speaks on everything to his belief in what religion is to recording in the afterglow of a forest fire. There's no rock star mask here, but just a guy who happens to play guitar exceedingly well & has great spiritual longings. Actually, in that sense he's quite average ... but most musicians will probably refrain from putting the controversial topic of religion out there outside of disguised song lyrics. But, SV has never been afraid of putting unsettling guitar playing out there & nor is he afraid of putting unsettling ideas out there just the same. SV has a guitar style that floats & glides like water & on first listen one will easily fall into a hypnotic state, perhaps even losing just how technically accomplished he is. But, if that's the case than he does a good job. Too often highly technical guitarists astound us with their almost inhuman skills but afterwards we find ourselves with a soulless vacant experience. Yngwie has been handed this criticism too many times. SV brings the best of both worlds together. SV has so many albums that the new listener may not know where to start. For something different without pounding drums & slashing rhythms this collection is a good starting point while showing SV seemingly naked with no fancy gimmicks between his playing, his mood & the listener. There's a couple new songs included for the already fan. This includes the special seventh song, "Melissa's Garden", which is SV's first step into digital recording. All proceeds from single sales of it go to the Melissa Kravets Memorial Foundation, a eye-catching thing to read in the linear notes. "The Wall Of Light" is an outtake from the Passion & Warfare" sessions, while the simply titled "Boston Rain Melody" is the recording of a jam session during a soundcheck jam that SV added some finishing touches to for this compilation.



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