You may notice that music is a big part of my life. There isn’t a day that passes without me putting on my big bad headphones and relaxing or getting really energized by albums from my favorite artists. My tastes are still pretty varied. Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Green River still gets pulled up when I feel like doing a funky little dance while cleaning, and Boy Hits Car’s self titled album too. Moby and Sarah McLachlan also have a spot on my playlist on occasion. But this week I was really excited to see something new in my Google Music recommendations: Paul Gilbert released a new album!
If you don’t know Paul, he’s a killer guitarist who takes overdone styles of play from rock and metal (with lovely jazz and blues overtones) and plays them again, exceptionally well and turned up to 11. It’s like a musical caricature where the new version is so much better than the original you’ve heard too many times before. You can tell he’s having a blast when he plays, and that he really thinks about music. A bonus? His sense of humor shines comes through on all his album’s songs and their titles: I Love My Lawnmower, Get Out Of My Yard, The Curse Of Castle Dragon, My Teeth Are A Drumset… Weird lyrics and emotive vocals are common, when there’s singing at all. Sometimes he just lets his guitar do the talking.
The compositions are equally fun and playful, as well as lovingly crafted and well played. He’s rather inventive, using non-standard items to add texture and interest to his sound (think: electric drill). So if you generally enjoy modern rock-style guitar but want a fresh, over-the-top take on it from a highly-skilled guitarist who also has a great sense of fun and humor, I can highly recommend him. My personal favorite album is Get Out Of My Yard, but they’re all pretty good.
Behold Electric Guitar
Like Paul’s other albums, this one is fun. The first song, “Havin’ It” starts off pretty gentle, but peppy. A little muted 70s era synth against more modern rock/blues style guitar keeps it weird without being mind-melting strange (unlike Empath, looking at you, Townsend…). Like most of his songs, it flows pretty quickly to a slightly more jazzy feel, then back again as Paul cycles between clean and fuzzy guitar sounds, solos and licks. Its a groovy track without lyrics that’s perfect for long car rides (where you might want something a little mellow) as well as dancing wildly around the house. It’s good for your health, don’t judge me!
The next song is almost rock-country, backed by muted synth-organ and guitar and rather ambiguous emotionally (happy, but also a little wistful? mournful?), but again, pleasant and a touch weird. As usual, there are no lyrics, but the guitar practically sings the song’s title, “I Own a Building”. Paul loves to make his guitar talk and this often feels like the signature of his style, along with the weird ascending arpeggios to close out his songs.
And this pattern of using a specific style of music, then blending with a few others and finally warping it all a bit continues. “Everywhere That Mary Went” actually uses the children’s song “Mary Had a Little Lamb” here and there, which then gets rockified and has some Emerson, Lake and Palmer-style synth tossed over just to keep you guessing. “Love Is The Saddest Thing” isn’t sad at all – indeed, it’s got a nice fast tempo and very ZZ Top guitar, as well as a super-expansive sounding solo in a fuzzy, muted guitar tone with a bit of echo so it sounds like he’s playing it from the top of a hill for the whole world to hear. “Sir, You Need to Calm Down” does start out with a very stressed-sounding guitar that then heads into a faster blues-rock style I quite like. “Let That Battery Die” is very chill, then heads in the ballad direction, with soaring, wailing guitar coming in and out. None of these have lyrics at all, so they’re also pretty decent for background music when you want something upbeat and fun. It hits that mark perfectly.
If you stick with it, you’ll get some lyrics down on song 11 of 12, “A Herd of Turtles”. Here, Paul passes on his wisdom in a series of small poems, dropped into his continuing rock-blues riffs, solos, and exploration-of-sound-texture songs. If you’re going to listen to one song on this album, pick “A Herd of Turtles”. This song IS Paul.
This is a really fun, oddly calm album. If you really enjoy the bluesy rock of the 70s forward, you’ll love Paul Gilbert, and Behold Electric Guitar specifically. If you like music where the musician kind of messes around with a specific sound, and does a lot of little solos and riffs, you’ll enjoy this album for the same reason. If you like musicians with an obvious sense of humor and self-awareness, this should also hit the spot as Paul obviously has both and isn’t above laughing at himself. He’s also just a great guitarist and knows what seems like all the tricks. I may not play this daily, but it’ll pop up on my list in the future without a doubt.