Blue Canoe 2021
Acclaimed composer and sidekick to the stars expands his guitar span with orchestral sweep of the world – imaginary and real.
While the stylistic scope of Lyle Workman’s creative reach seems simply stunning – he played alongside such diverse artists as Mika and Tony Williams, wrote music for such movies as “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and co-penned a hit, “I Don’t Mind At All” – the Californian’s instrumental aspirations have never included a full-length symphonic opus, but “Uncommon Measures” should come as no surprise to those familiar with the American’s method. What’s astonishing, though, is how far from traditional idioms this album, apparently inspired by Stravinsky and Bartók and laid down mostly at Abbey Road, lands. There’s rock defiance to it, yet the flight of fantasy on offer straddles a few other genres, from classical to country, making the twists and turns a part of the game Lyle’s listeners are engaged in.
Fronting a 63-piece orchestra conducted by John Ashton Thomas who shared arrangement duties with Bruce Fowler, Workman may enter a new territory here but he does so accompanied by friends. When his folksy strum and slider roll on epic opener “North Star” is underpinned with Vinnie Colaiuta’s unsophisticated beat one must feel comfortably – until the tidal wave of strings and woodwind hits to elevate the aural journey to astral planes and let the guitar soar higher and higher, up to romantic glories, before down-to-earth dance gets unraveled for all to marvel at. This grandeur will be stripped from the intimate performance of “Our Friendship” – the record’s spiritual finale on which Lyle’s lullaby-like lines are arresting, marrying serenity to celestial sustain, yet if the similarly idyllic “All The Colors Of The World” can seem ethereal, gentle notes peeled from the fretboard and drifting away, the fusion winds blow the ever-shifting tune towards cinematic sailing and exquisite electric and acoustic solos, the brass-splashed and Tim Lefebvre’s bass-peppered “Imaginary World” proposes a Latin-tinctured stroll down the reverie – or Riviera.
It’s there that infectious funk fashioned in the crossfire of Abe Laboriel Jr. and Sam Wilkes’ jive forces “Noble Savage” to flow to jazzy waters and gracefully float on the orchestral surface, where the sax-smeared, celebratory “Unsung Hero” jitterbugs and the tranquil “Arc Of Life” reveal Workman’s love to blues and progressive expanse of melody and rhythm which drown his virtuosity in bombastic sweetness and bluegrass frivolity. However, the twang behind “Labyrinth Of Love” is wondrously elegiac, as any waltz is bound to, but “Rise And Shine” – featuring Greg Leisz’s delicate pedal steel and Matt Chamberlain’s robust drums – takes Lyle’s six-string filigree beyond the horizon, to the hiding place of sunset delights.