Once in a great while, a guitarist finds a
way to add a new twist to an old story.
Such is the case with Ned Evett, who plays
roadhouse boogie, amped-up folk-blues, and
swampy ballads on—get this—fretless electric, flattop, and resonator guitars.
On Treehouse, Evett’s new opus, we’re
treated to 14 superb originals featuring his
raspy vocals, cinematic lyrics, and cleverly layered guitar parts that blend elements of Delta
blues, Indian sarod, and Southern rock with
the keening slide tones of early-’70s George
Harrison and Badfinger. It’s an improbable
mix, yet so cool.
Evett’s custom guitars feature mirror-glass
fingerboards, a design he evolved while living in the Bay Area. (Most of his guitars
have a dead-flat fingerboard, although he
has a Danelectro with a radiused playing
surface.) The glass enhances sustain and
lends a unique, singing clarity to his riffs,
chords, and solos. Sometimes Evett stops
the strings with his fingertips, but when he
wants a note to have more bite, he’ll press
it down with a fingernail. Together with
his formidable fingerpicking chops, this
flesh-or-nail “fretting” technique provides
Evett with a wide range of organic tones.
One moment he’ll be soaring like a violin,
and then he’ll grab a low note and make it
growl, not unlike a fretless bassist.
The mighty Adrian Belew produced
Treehouse in his Nashville-area studio, helping Evett by selecting the songs and guiding
the album’s sonic direction. But other than
playing percussion on one track and adding
sparse rhythm guitar to another, Belew stands
aside to let Evett handle the 6-string duties.
With his fretless instruments, Evett
manages to capture the melismatic beauty
of slide guitar, yet is able to finger chords,
intervals, and complex lead lines like a
standard guitarist. It’s an amazing amalgam
of two worlds that are normally segregated,
and Evett moves between them effortlessly.
The album is beautifully mixed—a great
headphone experience—and offers enough
sonic nooks and crannies to keep you coming back for yet another listen. —Andy Ellis
Must-hear track: “Sayonara Serenade”
The Mars Volta’s guitarist, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, has been so busy this year that you
couldn’t be faulted for wondering if he believes
in the Mayan prognostication about the world
ending this December: So far he’s toured as
bassist with Le Butcherettes, taken his band
the Omar Rodriguez-Lopez Group to Panama,
reunited At the Drive-In, premiered his film
Los Chidos at SXSW, and released the Mars
Volta’s sixth record, Noctourniquet—all before
May. Either way, the latter serves up enough
pop-prog experimentalism to be the perfect
12/21/12 death march or a sneering, post-punk middle-finger salute to doomsday.
“The Whip Hand” terrorizes eardrums
with buzz-saw guitar runs during its chorus,
while its verses are more soothing, thanks to
Rodriguez-Lopez’s reverse-delay riffs. Vocalist
Cedric Bixler-Zavala agilely carries “Aegis,”
while Marcel Rodriguez-Lopez’s trippy keyboards and Omar’s ethereal chords crisscross
each other and build to an explosive chorus of
instrumental mayhem and vocal pyrotechnics.
“The Malkin Jewel” features Bixler-Zavala
doing a ghostly Jack White-style vocal in the
verse before unleashing his signature howl
over Rodriguez-Lopez’s reggae-ish riffs and
bassist Juan Alderete’s growling string slides.
While Noctourniquet isn’t your dad’s
prog rock, it does provide some Pink
Floyd-inspired journeys (think “Echoes”
from 1970’s Meddle) in its mellower
songs—especially the atmospherically creepy
“Vedamalady,” the hauntingly brooding
“Empty Vessels Make the Loudest Sound,”
and the ambient, weightless drifting of “In
Absentia.” And there are even hints of At the
Drive-In’s manic power in “Molochwalker,”
which hangs its groove on Omar’s wah-driven
rhythms and half-cocked-wah solo—which is
easily the album’s best lead.
Overall, with Noctourniquet, Rodriguez-Lopez and company rein things in a smidge and
create the band’s most accessible, i Tunes-friendly
album to date. But Mars Volta purists shouldn’t
tweak too much over that—there’s enough key-board-fueled textures, wacky compositions, and
celestial guitar work to appease any cosmonaut
in need of a soundtrack. —Chris Kies
Must-hear track: “Molochwalker”
Prester John is a duo comprising underground guitar hero Shawn Persinger and
mandolinist David Miller, both remarkable instrumentalists and engaging singers.
Persinger is the songwriter, penning some
wildly entertaining, funny, clever-but-never-cheesy, smart and snarky songs. The melodies
are strong, catchy and unique, with a current
of pop sensibility running under the clear
influences of everything from Dawg music
to heavy metal to the Beatles to gypsy jazz to
bluegrass, with the occasional neo-classical
flight of fancy thrown in for good measure.
The original Prester John was a character
in the Dark Ages who wrote letters describing
a mythical, golden kingdom where he was
surrounded by “infidels and barbarians,” and
was requesting the assistance of the Christian
armies to deliver his kingdom. The kingdom was never found. It is tempting to wax
philosophic about Shawn Persinger’s choice of
Prester John as some kind of icon, but with
tongue firmly in cheek, Persinger’s website says
the reason is “marketing.” And that actually
explains it really well, even as it explains nothing at all. Which is clearly the point. Ahem.
Persinger’s slightly warped sense of
humor is always front and center, even
in the poignant “Six Hour Bus,” but the
virtuosity never takes a back seat. Persinger
is a powerful player, capable of driving a
groove hard, playing tender fingerstyle,
or flinging a flurry of lightning fast, dead
accurate riffs, and don’t you forget it.
Miller’s mandolin runs nearly the same
gamut, and the combination is wonderfully
complementary, especially on the drill-team
precise “Best Intentions,” or counterpointing gorgeously on “Peerless,” or just playfully throwing lines back and forth. These
two are razor sharp rhythmically no matter
what they’re playing. “Dear Martha” has
one of the coolest grooves on the record—
the guitar and mando harmonize, counterpoint and drive each other relentlessly. The
fact that these two keep the energy and the
drive high without speeding up the tempo
speaks volumes about their musicianship.
Altogether enjoyable! —Gayla Drake Paul
Must-hear track: “First Date”