Sunday, November 22, 2015

James Burton, Albert Lee, Amos Garrett and Dave Wilcox are Guitar Heroes

Stony Plain has a release that will certainly enliven the listening of guitar geeks, "Guitar Heroes." The album brings forth a performance from the Vancouver Island MusicFest by guitar legends James Burton, Albert Lee, Amos Garrett and Dave Wilcox backed by the keyboards of Jon Greathouse, the bass of Will MacGregor, and the drums of James Harrison Smith. Doug Cox, Artistic Director of the Festival discusses in the liner notes how this performance came together which I will leave for your eyes.

James Burton first came to notice on Dale Hawkins' early recordings including "Susie Q", before hooking up with Rick Nelson and then Elvis Presley. Albert Lee is best known to me as a country picker (an extension of Burton's chicken scratching style) who spent time with Emmy Lou Harris, Eric Clapton and Rodney Crowell. Amos Garrett was with Ian & Sylvia, Maria Muldaur, Paul Butterfield's Better Days and Bonnie Raitt while Dave Wilcox was also with Ian and Sylvia, Maria Muldaur, Nashville North, and The Ian Tyson (TV) show. This gives a sense of their roots but the music extends here to blues, rockabilly and jazz.

Lee and Wilcox handle most of the vocals in a most credible fashion. Certainly no issue about Lee's rendition of Arthur Crudup's "That's All Right (Mama)" that was Elvis' first single and the contrast between the switching leads and other guitarists providing support is delightful. Greathouse handles the vocal on "Susie Q" with Wilcox taking the first lead followed by Burton, Garrett and Lee, with Greathouse also soloing. It should be noted that both of these performances are little more than 5 minutes and allow each to display there licks and tricks but no one takes long self-indulgent solos. "Sleepwalk" is a showcase for Garrett's multiple string bending and tonal command followed by a lively rockabilly rendition of Ray Charles "Leave My Woman Alone," with Lee's affable vocal and some instrumental sparks, particularly the trading of licks between Lee and Greathouse for the first break and between Lee and Burton to ride out this 7 minute plus romp that seems shorter.

The opening of Jimmy Rogers "You're the One" sounds like they are about the hit "Honky Tonk" before Wilcox leads the  into a straight blues vein as he delivers a vocal a bit more forcibly than Rogers did before then calling on Burton to take the first solo, and after singing another verse introduces Lee. It is refreshing these gentleman handle this blues from the standpoint of country musicians and listening to their use of tone as well as their picking is a delight. Herbie Mann's recording "Comin' Home Baby" was a standard warmup track of blues bands in the sixties and the quartet of guitarists provide a lively rendering here. Wilcox's guitar introduces "Flip, Flop and Fly" which he sings and on which Lee is exceptional on. An instrumental renditions of the atmospheric "Only the Young" and a swampy rockabilly take on "Pork Salad Annie," are followed by a Wilcox original, "Bad Apple," the only forgettable performance him.

I know of the closing "Country Boy" from the Ricky Skaggs recording and the terrific video which was filmed in part in the New York subway system, but was not aware that Lee was one of the song's writers. It is a terrific number to close this performance. Lee may not have the range of Skaggs as a singer, but ably sings as well as takes listeners for a ride with some stunning playing here, with Greathouse and Wilcox also getting to take crisp breaks. This closes a terrific recording on a invigorating manner. "Guitar Heroes" captures four terrific guitarists on a festival performance where there mutual admiration meshes with often astonishing playing. Country roots and rock fans will find much listening joy here.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is "Susie Q" from this recording.

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