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The Graham Weekly Album Review #1667

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Joe Caro: Home Alone
by George Graham

(Independent release As broadcast on WVIA-FM 12/14/2011)

There are a lot of very good musicians on the scene who are happy being sidemen, being the hired gun for others, doing session work and touring with headline acts. In a way, that can be more challenging than doing your own music, since to rise to the top in the field means applying your creativity to enhance the work of others. But there is a long-running tradition of these ace session musicians doing solo albums of their own. This is especially the case among guitarists. Many of the session guitar players gravitated toward jazz-rock fusion, and during the height of the fusion movement, there were quite few solo projects by guitarists who often went on to solo careers for a while, people like Larry Carlton, Lee Ritenour, Steve Khan, Eric Johnson, whose solo work eclipsed his earlier session work, and in more recent decades people like Duke Levine and Robben Ford. This kind of recording is not as frequent as the genre used to be, but this week we have a good example of a solo album by a long-time session and supporting guitarist, and it's only his second release under his own name after being on scores of other people's albums. It's Joe Caro, and his new CD is called Home Alone.

Joe Caro is a 55-year-old Queens, New York native who has a kind of classic Baby Boomer music story. He got his first guitar when he saw the Beatles on TV when he was eight. Then he was influenced by the British blues scene and people like Jimi Hendrix, evolving to influence by the authentic artists like Elmore James and Robert Johnson. Then came an interest in jazz.

He began his career as a session guitarist at age 18, and recorded or performed live with Blue Oyster Cult, Bette Midler, Chaka Khan, Carly Simon, Dr. John, saxophonist Gato Barbieri, James Taylor, Bobby McFerrin, The Eagles and many others. He was also a member of the house bands on the David Letterman and Saturday Night Live TV shows.

In the 1990s, Caro formed a band with drummer Steve Ferrone and bassist Will Lee called BFD, which performed a fair amount, and released one now-out-of-print recording in 1994, Caro's only other album with his own material.

More recently, the life-long New Yorker moved to the Hawaiian island of Maui, and it was there he recorded his new appropriately named CD, Home Alone. It was very much a solo effort with Caro making the recording in his home on a laptop with music production software, playing most of the instruments himself. But he did call on some of his old fellow New York studio players for some parts that they recorded there and were blended in with Caro's parts. The guests include his old bandmates Will Lee on bass and Steve Ferrone on drums, plus drum contributions also from Anton Fig and Shawn Pelton, and some keyboards from Ricky Peterson.

The result kind of fusion-y sound that is a staple of these session-guitarist solo albums. But the sound is fairly wide-ranging. Caro takes advantage of the technology for some rather diverse sounds, from easy-going light fusion to electronically-driven rock to some ethereal moments. The material is generally well-written and Caro's playing is tasteful. He does a good job in resisting the temptation to be any kind of guitar exhibitionist on the recording. There are a few cliches of the style here and there, but it's generally both pleasing to listen to and musically and sonically interesting.

The all-instrumental CD opens with one its more ethereal moments, a short piece called Clear. <<>>

That provides a considerable contrast to the piece into which it leads, an all-out fusion-influenced rocker entitled The Calling. This track has guest appearances from Anton Fig on drums and Ricky Peterson on the Hammond organ. Caro creates a kind of wall of guitars. <<>>

A composition called Dawn is one of the more appealing on the CD. It has a kind of nice easy fusion groove with interesting guitar textures. Caro plays all the instruments. <<>>

Another strong track is called Time, featuring Caro's old BFD bandmates, Will Lee and Steve Perrone on bass and drums respectively. Caro uses the technology to layer his guitars. <<>>

A reminder that this CD was done on a computer comes on a piece called Sludge with lots of sonic manipulation with samples. Still, it has a real drummer in the person of Shawn Pelton. <<>>

Another rather appealing piece is called Little Big Man, with Caro on all the instruments. <<>> After a while it takes a turn toward the more exotic. <<>>

Sometimes the sonic tinkering can get a bit over-the-top, as on a piece called Chicks Dig It!, though it's still interesting as a kind of heavy metal tune in a five-beat rhythm. <<>>

The CD ends with its only cover tune, a kind of re-invention of the Beatles Strawberry Fields Forever. It has some fairly interesting ideas, but also its share of fusion and even New Age style cliches. <<>>

Guitarist Joe Caro's new CD Home Alone is only his second album of his own material in a career that goes back to the 1970s. As a prolific and busy session and supporting touring guitarist for many well-known performers, perhaps he was just too busy to do his own music, or found satisfaction in the challenge of adding to others' music. But now that he fled New York, where he had spent almost his whole life, for an island home on Maui, Caro took the opportunity to create his own music, largely doing everything himself with some help through long-distance overdubbing by some of his musical colleagues from New York. The result is in some ways similar to the jazz-rock fusion-oriented recordings in the past from other session guitarists, but this sort of musical project is not nearly as common as it was in years past. So it makes a nice addition to the genre, and guitar fans will find much to like, as perhaps will those who are intrigued by the interesting use of technology in making music.

We'll gave the album's sound quality close to a grade A. The technology is well-used, there are lots of interesting sonic touches, without falling into the trap of going for distorted sound. And the dynamic range, the span between loud and soft, is decent for this kind of music. Not a lot of volume excessive compression was used.

Solo albums by session musicians are nothing new. Some tend to be an attempt for the player to show everything he can do or can end up being scattered stylistically. Joe Caro's Home Alone is fairly wide-ranging, but it's also musically coherent and tasteful. And it's a good opportunity to hear up front a guitarist whose work most people have heard over the years without realizing it.

(c) Copyright 2011 George D. Graham. All rights reserved.
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