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Andrew Synoweic: Second Story
by George Graham
(Independent Release as broadcast on WVIA-FM 5/29/2019)
Back in the heyday of the big pop studio productions during the 1970s and early 80s, it was common for some of the most prominent studio musicians to issue their own recordings, most often in a jazzy or fusion style. Then-ubiquitous session guitarists like Larry Carlton, Lee Ritenour and Robben Ford all released their own recordings and developed a following on their own, in many cases while maintaining their day jobs playing on other people’s records, soundtracks, and the like. That sort of thing is not as common as it once was, but this week, we have recording by a busy contemporary Los Angeles-based session guitarist who follows in his predecessors’ footsteps with an instrumental album that runs from very electric rock to more mellow fusion. It’s Andrew Synowiec, and his new, debut recording, is called Second Story.
Andrew Synowiec has become a much-in-demand session player, appearing on some 25 Grammy nominated albums, including a Grammy win in 2015 for his work with a jazz big band headed by Gordon Goodwin. He has appeared on recordings by Seal, Barbara Streisand, and Michael Buble, as well as on the soundtracks for the films The Greatest Showman and Frozen. The wide range of the material shows his versatility.
Many solo albums by prominent studio guitarist have tended to show off the artist’s ability to span styles, and can sometimes be a little scattered. They also tend to put to full use the abilities of the studio to tweak parts in microscopic detail. Synowiec, on the other hand, on Second Story tends to stick with a kind of rock oriented fusion line, and does the opposite of the laboring in the studio on individual parts, and instead recorded the album live, and with the exception of one track, all in one six hour session.
He appears with a fairly constant band, with Fred Kron on keyboards, Sean Hurley, who has played with John Mayer, on bass; and two drummers, Allman Brothers style, Blair Sinta and Jack Reed. Joining the group for three of the tracks is guitarist Tim Pierce, who is something of a mentor to Synowiec.
As mentioned the album is quite electric all the way through, and runs from Hendrix style no-holds-barred shredding to more mellow and occasionally funky material.
Opening is the very electric title track Second Story which evokes Jimi Hendrix, until it turns a little more jazzy in the “B” section of the tune. <<>>
Along the same lines is the following piece, Gift Horse, which also has a kind of dichotomy between the cranked up section and the more jazzy segments. The piece takes a more funky beat. <<>>
Featuring guest guitarist Tim Pierce is Albuquerque Blues, with the New Mexico city being the hometown of Pierce. It’s also has things cranked up in both sound and musical energy level. <<>>
One of the highlights of the album is Triad Days which draws on some of the 1970s-80s fusion influence that guitarists like Larry Carlton were doing on their early solo albums. It also features guest guitarist Tim Pierce, and the playing is tasteful all around. <<>>
One of the few laid-back-sounding tracks on the album is called Already Taken, again with Pierce, with both the composition and performance first-rate. <<>>
With a New Orleans influenced beat with is another of the album’s standout tracks, Humor Me in which Synowiec’s playing, especially on his solo, is a good example of why he is so often called as a studio musician to contribute some interesting musical ideas. <<>>
Also with a more contemplative sound is One of a Kind which could pass as the theme for perhaps a romantic film or maybe a Western. <<>>
The album closes with Off the Grid a track recorded several months prior to the rest of the project with somewhat different personnel, Jonathan Flaugher on bass and Jake Reed, one of the drummers from the rest of the session. It’s some all-out rock guitar shredding. <<>>
Second Story the new first solo album by Los Angeles-based studio guitarist Andrew Synowiec, is a worthwhile recording that follows in the footsteps of people like Larry Carlton and Lee Ritenour, stepping into the spotlight after being a supporting musician for years. But Synowiec does pretty much the opposite of the usual careful studio project recording almost the whole album live in one day. The supporting musicians are fully up to the task, though for the life of me, I don’t know why Synowiec would want to use two simultaneous drummers. It’s not as if one is serving as a percussionist doing interesting sonic colors, but for the most part, they are playing nearly identical parts, and that makes it decidedly less tight rhythmically, especially on material that runs toward the funky. But they do what they do well.
Our grade for sound quality is a B. The sonic clarity is not great, the recording was over-compressed so it does not capture most of the dynamics of the performances. And there are instances of overload distortion.
Solo albums by notable studio guitarists are not as common as they used to be. But Andrew Synowiec carries on the tradition on his new release which makes for satisfying listening especially for guitar aficiandos.
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