Welcome to the musical meandering insights of Aaron Joy. 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 or band is unique in some way & not every submission was reviewed. 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)

Friday, May 11, 2012

Steve Hackett ~ Highly Strung

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Style: prog-rock, pop rock
Label: Charisma Records
Year: 1982
Home: England

Members: Steve Hackett ~ guitars/vocals/harmonica
Nick Magnus, John Acock ~ keyboards
Chris Lawrence ~ contrabass
Ian Mosley ~ drums

Additional: Nigel Warren-Green ~ cello

British prog-based guitarist SH really needs no introduction. He might not be as flashy as some of his guitar peers, nor have the chart hits nor get credit he deserves but his lush guitar work as an early member of Genesis, joining them on their third release & staying through five more, & later alongside Steve Howe with GTR is nothing to be embarressed about. For those not familiar with the Peter Gabriel days of Genesis that's a loss that should be rectified. One of the problems with SH's career & reputation is a regular focus on solo work & minimal commerically focused band work, outside of GTR & Genesis SH has only recorded as a member of Quiet World predating both these ventures, while the chart hits are but one - "Cell 151" in Britain only - thus limiting his audience exposure to a new generation. But, he's really no different than the prolific but lacking chart hits careers of peers Rick Wakeman, Howe, Jon Anderson or on the other side of the ocean Lou Reed, John Cale, Phil Keaggy, Dire Straits, Boz Skaggs & countless others. Chart success should not be how one ultimately judges an musician ... as in that case Lou Reed must certainly be a non-entity in the music business. Thus, it's largely forgotten that SH is one of the first to experiment with guitar tapping that would be a staple of Eddie Van Halen, along with being an exponent of the same picking technique that Yngmie Malmsteen would use as his respective cornerstone. Both these guys would surely pay compliments to SH, though sadly those who have come after probably haven't heard him. & it's hard to say that's he's a musician of past glories as with 24 studio albums as of 2011 he's had a larger, & potentially musically more diverse output, than not just any of his peers but also his students. His forays into Brazilian rhythms & nylong string classical guitar have also shown him to be always growing & far from stuck in the past. But, with such a catalog where does one start? Actually, just about anywhere as much of his catalog gets positive reviews, including both live & studio albums. The early days are firmly prog while the later tends to be more plaintive classical influenced. The pre-GTR Highly Strung is often recommended as one of the best starting points, standing in the middle of both styles. It's only fault might be that it stands a bit too much in the middle of the 80's too as its a bit too MTV pop with now dated sounding keyboards. Highly Strung, confessionally, may not even be SH's best musicially & its certainly not the most experimental or exploratory, but has a strong set of polished songs that span an array of styles from pop (i.e. "Cell 151", "Walking Through Walls") to prog (i.e. "Camino Royale", "Weightless", "Group Therapy"), even sounding like a bit like a lite version of the Rabin led Yes with some Rick Wakeman-esque harpsichord (i.e. "Give It Away") & with a a bit of King Crimson prog (i.e. "Hackett To Pieces"), to classically tinged (i.e. "Always Somewhere Else", "India Rubber Man"). Being a guitarist first its surprising how many few songs are instrumentals (i.e. "Always Somewhere Else", "Group Therapy", "Hackett To Pieces"), though with a lot of bland forgettable lyrics of the prog genre quality, in his workable tenor, there are a handful of songs that could probably be improved if given an instrumental workout. It should be said that this is not a hard rock album & for the new generation where wild guitar solos rule it may not even be that interesting as a guitar album. This stands in that wierd place of slow rock guitar more on the pop end that's more that's more plaintive than flashy, more lush in both feeling & playing style than much of what dominated the music scene at the time & since. Though, the album does open & close with a straight on prog-influenced rock number, both co-written with keyboardist John Acock & foreshadowing GTR but without the commercial feel ... but its a bit of a deception of what lies between the bookends. This might not be the best album to discover SH the guitarist but its a good place to discover SH the composer. In an interesting inclusion "India Rubber Man" includes SH on his first instrument - the harmonica - as the entire song is only synthesizers & keyboards with no guitar for a somber moment that is probably as close to Genesis as this album gets.




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