WILTOTWTWT: Andy Timmons – Resolution

Another installment in my awkwardly-abbreviated ‘What I Listened To On The Way To Work Today’ (WILTOTWTWT) series. I keep using that name for them because it makes me think of a little birdy trying to catch the attention of Queensryche’s Michael Wilton. See previous WILTOTWTWT posts HERE.

Monday morning. Time to catch the tram into the city. Incidentally, there’s a dude who catches the same tram as me that looks a lot like Steve Lukather. I call him the Lukalike. The last time I saw the Lukealike I was inspired to listen to Luke’s Ever Changing Times album. Man I love having my entire music collection sitting in my pocket so I can follow inspirational whims like that. Anyway, today I was in an Andy Timmons mood despite the presence of the Lukealike, so I loaded up Timmons’s ‘Resolution’ album. I’ve had this CD for a while and I return to it every now and then.

There are a few things I really like about this album, and I’ll list them in point form because that’s fun:

* Live vibe. Just guitar, bass and a single guitar. Gives the music a lot of space and dynamics.

*Tone. Timmons’s guitar tone has increased midrange and attenuated treble which makes it easier to listen to for long periods. As someone who grew up on stuff like Pantera and Sepultura, bands who favoured pretty treble-heavy mixes, I’d often feel a bit let down that while my raging teenage adrenaline still wanted to rock out by the end of the album, my ears would feel a little strained and I’d guiltily turn down the treble. Then I’d feel like a total pussy for compromising something as awesome as ‘Far Beyond Driven’ for something as lame as being able to hear into my 20s.

* Songs. Timmons is under no illusion that he’s writing music for the world at large to listen to. I don’t even think he’s writing specifically to please guitar audiences. He writes to please himself. And if that means traditional song structures are all but abandoned as he chases a particular sonic idea, so be it. Not everything should be verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-solo-chorus-modulate-fade.

And yet for all its awesomeness, there’s something about this album that keeps it from crossing over into my list of favourites, and indeed something that keeps Timmons out of my list of personal Guitar Gods (oh, he’s on my Guitarists I Really Really Dig list, don’t you worry about that). And I finally figured it out. It’s the lack of rhythm guitar. Now, I really dig the live vibe of ‘Resolution.’ I like the arrangements, and all the space. Yet part of me also wishes I could hear it with intricate double-tracked rhythm guitars. When I think back to a great instrumental album like Passion & Warfare, it wasn’t just the lead guitar that grabbed me. It was the whole production. If you listen closely to Vai’s rhythm stabs during tracks like ‘Erotic Nightmares’ and ‘Greasy Kids Stuff’ there’s some really complex stuff going on there. True supportive rhythm guitar rather than riffsmanship or rhythmic strumming. And it’s taken me a while to realise that the thing that’s keeping Timmons out of my list of Guitar Gods is that I feel I’m missing an aspect of his playing by not having that rhythm guitar happening throughout the songs on ‘Resolution.’

I have no doubt that Andy is a more than capable rhythm guitarist, and that the lack of rhythm guitar on ‘Resolution’ is a compositional choice. I also get the irony of loving the live vibe but wishing there was a bunch of overdubbage too. But I feel that by leaving rhythm guitar out of the songs, I’m not getting the full picture of who he is as a guitarist. When that happens, I’m sure I can move some chairs around to find some room for Andy in my personal Guitar God banquet table, instead of giving him the VIP key for the Guitarists I Really Really Dig self-serve buffet.

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WILTOTWTWT – Van Halen Live: Right Here, Right Now

Here’s another in my awkwardly-titled occasional series WILTOTWTWT, or “What I listened to on the way to work today.”

At the moment I’m preparing my articles for the next edition of Mixdown Magazine. I’m reviewing, amongst other things, four absolutely amazing Ernie Ball Music Man guitars, including an AXIS model which has completely changed my life. CLICK HERE to see EBMM AXIS models on eBay. The minute I picked it up I fell to my knees and cried like a little girl. Well maybe that’s an exaggeration, it’s probably more accurate to say I cried like a grown man. Anyway, this guitar was what was left after Eddie Van Halen ended his association with the company, and as such it totally reminds me of Van Halen’s ‘For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge’ era.

This was my first Van Halen album – I bought it with my birthday money when it came out in 1991 – and Eddie Van Halen was interviewed about the EBMM guitar in the very first edition of Guitar World I ever read. Between the ages of 12 and about 15 I was pretty much obsessed with Eddie Van Halen.

Anyway, eventually Van Halen released a live album and video (I got it on VHS for a different birthday) called Live: Right Here, Right Now, in which they played pretty much the entire album, with a few other tracks thrown in. Something like that is pretty unheard of today: a well-known band playing primarily their new album to a packed arena full of people singing every word. Most of the time when I go see a band touring behind a new CD they might chuck in between 2 and 4 songs from it, and stick to ‘the classics’ for the rest of the show. But I digress…

Eddie Van Halen played the hell out of his EBMM EVH guitars on that live video and CD (by the way, CLICK HERE to see EBMM Edward Van Halen models on eBay if you want the original version), and playing the AXIS last night inspired me to load the album up on my iPod this morning. What really struck me was not the obnoxiously bright mix of the audience noise (it sounds like rain on tin foil), or the overbearing snare drum sound (it sounds like hail on tin foil). It wasn’t even Eddie’s tragic over-reliance on a chorus-type effect from his Eventide Harmonizer. It was his so-in-the-pocket-it-might-as-well-be-part-of-the-pants rhythm playing. Listen closely during “In N’ Out” and “Man On A Mission” in particular for examples. I’ve always been more influenced by Eddie’s rhythm work than his lead stuff, and listening to this album again reminded me why. The dude knows how to make the guitar do exactly what he wants at any given time in minute detail, and manages to do it while rockin’ the scissor kicks and chain-smoking like a locomotive.

And that’s what I listened to on the way to work today.

WILTOTWTWT: Fear Factory, Robert Plant & Alison Krauss

So I just realised that if you turn ‘What I Listened To On The Train To Work Today’ into an acronym, it looks like an onomatopoeic interpretation of the sound a finch makes.

Okay, this morning seems to have been one of polar opposites for me. I started my walk to the train station cranking Fear Factory’s ‘Obsolete’ album. When this one came out, I got to interview Raymond from the band (for Curio, the student magazine for the University of Canberra – I was the News & Reviews editor). Allow me to slip into self-indulgent journo mode for a second…

When Fear Factory toured Australia to promote this album in 1999, I was lucky enough to get a backstage pass and a photo pass to shoot the first 3 songs. The band opened with ‘Shock,’ the first track off ‘Obsolete.’ After getting a bunch of shots of the band (including Dino with an Ibanez UV777BK Universe 7-string with a single EMG active humbucker), I turned around to get some pictures of the mad wall of mosh happening behind me. Suddenly I felt ‘a presence’ and I realised singer Burton C Bell was right behind me, getting the crowd to go extra psycho for my photos. So I turn around and we sing the chorus to ‘Shock’ together into his mic. Awesome. Awesome.

Anyway, ‘Obsolete’ is my favourite Fear Factory album. The production is sharp, hi-fi and aggressive, with monstrously tight grooves and direct songwriting. Dino’s guitar tone is clear even when he plays complex chords on tracks like ‘Descent,’ and Burton strikes the perfect balance between his screamy voice and his singing voice. Fear Factory made other great albums before and after ‘Obsolete,’ but this is the one for me.

Anyway, after getting to the train station and stopping at the kiosk for a coffee this morning, I switched over to Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’s ‘Raising Sand,’ which won every single one of the Grammys yesterday, with the exception of the Best Rock Instrumental award which went to Zappa Plays Zappa.

This is a cool, low-key album which reminds me in parts of Page and Plant’s 1998 ‘Walking Into Clarksdale’ album (not only because both albums include the song ‘Please Read The Letter). There’s lots of cool tremolo-drenched guitar playing by T Bone Burnett, and the whole atmosphere is very laid back and real. I would consider this one a bathtub album, or maybe a quiet Sunday afternoon album, sprawled out on the sofa with a sunbeam slowly crossing your bare feet as you read Oliver Sacks’ ’Musicophilia’ or something. Man I wish it was the weekend.

By the way, anyone else notice that T Bone Burnett looks a lot like John Hodgeman (Daily Show correspondent and the PC in those “I’m PC” “And I’m a Mac” commercials)?