Guitar Trax 2020
Cinematic soundtrack to American tragedy from Emmy-winning guitarist and his heavy friends.
The shooting of Mandalay Bay Hotel in 2017 affected hundreds of lives and left an indelible scar on Brian Tarquin’s soul, so he felt obliged and inspired to pour out the trauma in the form of a record. Whether such externalization requires the assistance of other musicians whose feelings might be of different intensity is a moot point, and though there were friends-festooned albums in the six-stringer’s discography before – including one dedicated to fallen soldiers – his guests’ parts, substantial as they are, tend to chip away at Tarqiun’s innermost melodicism. This tragedy should impose a stricter time and space unity than one defined by Aristotle, but Brian’s pieces, unfortunately, get spread all over the place in stylistic terms, so while “Vegas Blue” isn’t a concept album per se, its emotional purpose seems somewhat weakened.
Still, the orchestral grandeur of “Distant Light” will find Tarquin’s tunes and riffs wrapped in sweeping strings before Hal Lindes’s acoustic strum folds the storm into flamenco-esque lace and Steve Morse’s lyrical solo ups the strain, the cut’s instrumental flow saying much more than a vocal version, the record’s anticlimax finale, does – as words erode the drama. There’s nothing wrong with Phil Naro’s singing – he’s very impressive in powerful balladry of “Tomorrow’s Another Day” and the Bumblefoot-abetted hard-rock assault on “Lights Of Las Vegas” – but the voiceless fusion of “Evil In Men’s Hearts” in which Tony Carey provides cosmic ivories alongside Don Black’s brass passages is significantly brighter.
As a composer for screen, Tarquin’s great at creating gravity – and having Trey Gunn’s bass ground it on the blues of “Hallowed Ground” and “Demonic” that’s too raw, emotionally and sonic-wise, as Brian’s throaty roar hits the nerve – yet’s he’s as adept in handling a lighter number, what with the countrified pop of “Know Me” which is full of honeyed harmonies and reserved shredding. The transparent title track’s reimagining of “Little Wing” and “Run For Cover” edging close to “Superstition” towards the album’s end may suggest another flaw in the veteran’s approach and further unfocus his original intent. On their own these pieces are fine; as a whole, they fail to deliver the grief and accaptance.