No matter what he does, Paul Gilbert’s always been great. But to me he’s at his best when he’s being fun. Fun was a crucial ingredient in his solo debut King of Clubs, and it was a huge part of albums like Space Ship One and Alligator Farm. And if you’ve ever seen him at a clinic or had a private lesson with the man, you’d know that he’s all about reminding everyone that playing guitar is one of the funnest, coolest, most awesome things you can possibly do. And that’s what’s so great about Vibrato. Paul is back to singing on many of this album’s cuts, and his lyrical take is always so charmingly skewed that you just can’t help but smile. Check out “Enemies (In Jail),” which is based on a drawing young Paul did when he was around four years old, and which posits that the best day ever would involve riding around in a racing car and catching your enemies and putting them in jail – set against a super-cool octave-pedal, whammy-bar-and-two-phasers tone and some tasty jazz-influenced guitar work.
This general musical looseness is a theme that recurs throughout Vibrato: a slightly jazzy, fusiony, almost Mahavishnu-esque approach (especially on “Rain and Thunder And Lightning,” the funky groove of the title track, the blues-rock of “Bivalve Blues”)… there are some surprises too, like the jazz standard “Blue Rondo a la Turk” and “Atmosphere On The Moon,” which marries complex, lush chords with fleet-fingered noodling and Philly soul (and lyrics which entreat the children of the world to terraform the moon so Gilbert can go there to get away from the woes back on earth, such as autotune). There’s even a live cover of Yes’s “Roundabout.” And Muddy Waters’ “I Want To Be Loved.” And AC/DC’s “Go Down.”
The guitar playing is, of course, exceptional. All of Gilbert’s technique is still there, but there’s a looseness, a comfortableness, that seems to have entered his playing in recent years, where everything feels completely effortless and intuitive. And although everything he does will always appeal to a certain segment of the guitar-playing audience purely because of his incredible guitar ability, Vibrato succeeds so thoroughly because it’s simply an enjoyable album, one that deserves to be listened to for the moods it explores and the sense of fun with which it explores them, rather than as simply a display of world-class guitarsmanship.