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(Moon Haw Records As broadcast on WVIA-FM 10/4/2006)
As long as there is rock and roll, there are going to be electric guitar mavens. The genre revolves around the instrument, so it's not surprising that guitar players in popular rock bands have become celebrities. And when recordings of instrumental rock are done, they are most frequently the product of guitar players.
This week we have yet another example, and a worthy one at that. It's the new CD by Jim Weider, called Percolator.
Jim Weider grew up around Woodstock, New York, and developed his reputation from the nearly 15 years he played lead guitar in the legendary Woodstock group, The Band. Weider replaced Robbie Robertson, when the latter departed The Band, and Weider performed with The Band between 1985 and 1999. He also won a W.C. Handy blues award in 2005. This latest recording from him is an all-instrumental effort, which ranges from atmospheric and airy to down and funky. Weider, who is obviously a collector of vintage instruments, plays a number of them in the course of the CD, listing his equipment in detail for each track in the CD booklet. He also plays multiple guitars by way of overdubbing.
Percolator features some notable guests, including bassist Tony Levin of King Crimson, and John Medeski, of Medeski, Martin & Wood. Also appearing is Woodstock producer and keyboard player John Holbrook, along with drummer Rodney Holmes of the Steve Kimock Band.
This is definitely a guitar fan's album but it's not to the exclusion of other musical facets. While there are few particularly hummable tunes on the CD, the musicianship is strong throughout, and there is a nice variety in the mood and sonic texture of the tracks on the CD, though it's all rock or no more than one step removed from it. Weider does get in some impressive guitar licks, but the focus of the recording is on the ensemble playing, including Weider's multiple guitars that can be heard on just about every track.
The CD opens with a piece written by Weider and Holbrook called The Maze, a good composition that imparts a kind of unsettling or urgent, but slightly exotic mood. Weider plays multiple guitars with various effects while the band keeps a rock groove going. <<>>
The title track, Percolator is one that features keyboard man John Medeski and bassist Tony Levin. It's a more funk-oriented piece that features some tasteful playing by Weider. <<>>
New Day is the name of one of the more atmospheric pieces, which features John Holbrook playing an old-fashioned Mellotron string simulator. Weider also adds some acoustic guitar to the layers of instruments played on the track. <<>>
A piece called Smooth Move combines a bit of atmospherics with a funky beat with interesting results. The track also features bassist Tony Levin. <<>>
Another strong rock-based tune is called Flight, which features just the trio of Weider, Holbrook, who provides a synthesized bass from his keyboards, and drummer Holmes. But with multiple guitar sounds, and some first-rate playing by all involved, it becomes the epitome of a good rock instrumental. <<>>
Though Weider specializes in vintage Telecaster electric guitars, No Goodbyes features a wide palette of sounds from Weider's guitar collection, and also features an acoustic bass played by Fema Ephron. <<>>
About the only track that falls short for me is Rain Daze, which is based on a drum machine loop, so the piece is rhythmically much more stiff. And the band, such as it is, does not really jell. <<>>
The CD closes with another of its more atmospheric tracks, Prayer, on which Weider sometimes takes a rather bluesy direction in his playing. Making a guest appearance on piano is Dan McKinney, from the Allentown, PA area, and a veteran of our Homegrown Music series. <<>>
Jim Weider's new CD Percolator is a worthwhile album of instrumental rock guitar nicely played, and for the benefit of those who are really into such things, showing off the vintage instruments and amps he uses. Though often thought of as a blues-oriented guitarist, Weider is more the eclectic rock player than anything else on the CD. He is joined by a good band of like-minded musicians, though joined is perhaps not quite the word. He and some of his colleagues did record in the single studio, but the guests recorded their parts separately, in some cases in their own home studios. So whether this group will tour remains to be seen.
Our grade for sound quality is an "A-minus." The mix has everything in the right place, and the multiple guitars sounds that Weider uses add nicely to the sonic textures, but the recording seems a bit short on having an open, airy quality, even on the supposedly atmospheric tracks. The dynamic range, the span from soft to loud, is about what one might expect from a rock album; which means not a great deal of subtlety, but it's better than many in that respect. Overall, it rewards being played on a good stereo system.
There are plenty of instrumental albums by rock guitarists around, some are metal-oriented, some tend toward jazz-rock fusion, and others go for the blues. Jim Weider's Percolator combines tasteful playing with a rather wide range of influences to make for a CD that will appeal to more than just the rock guitar fan.
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