Category: GToD–Guitarete Track of the Day

GToD #6.1—Joni Mitchell and Pat Metheny, “Furry Sings the Blues,” from Shadows and Light (1980)

Part 1 of 2—Joni Mitchell

Be sure to check back on July 7 for part 2, which will focus on Pat Metheny’s contribution to “Furry Sings the Blues.”

Joni Mitchell’s “Shadows and Light” is a brilliant performance document that brings together stage translations of the singer/songwriter/guitarist’s mid-70s period. During this interval, Mitchell released one after another adventurous album: Court and Spark (1974), The Hissing of Summer Lawns (1975), Hejira (1976), Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter (1977), and Mingus (1979). In contrast to the folk and softer rock leanings of her earlier recordings, the brief on this sequence of albums was strongly informed by jazz, and Mitchell brought aboard some of the most cutting-edge jazz musicians of the era, perhaps most notably electric bass innovator and virtuoso Jaco Pastorius.

Although Mitchell herself is the essential guitar presence on her albums, she invited occasional additions from jazz-rock lead player Larry Carlton and Robben Ford. By the time of the late 1979 gigs that led to Shadows and Light, her live band included one of the most innovative young jazz guitarists of the time: Pat Metheny. Four years out from his 1976 debut and close to the cusp of releasing American Garage, Metheny was in what have proven to be rare circumstances in his lengthy and still-evolving career.

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GToD #5—Jefferson Starship—“Jane,” from Freedom at Point Zero (1979)

Craig Chaquico on lead guitar

Say what you must about the group that shapeshifted from the band that made “Somebody to Love” to the band that made “We Built This City,” but anyone who wants to dis them too hard has to reckon with the high points of their output. While never a megahit, “Jane” has been an FM radio staple for four decades and may well be the most identifiable single from the Jefferson Starship incarnation. Much of its enduring appeal resides in the contributions of rhythm guitarist Paul Kantner and lead guitarist Craig Chaquico.

Beginning with a clean, phase-shifted arpeggiated Em7-Gmaj7 riff, the guitarists quickly kick on crunchy sounds and cue the rhythm section with a pick-up that precedes the tight and punchy main riff. The riff is simple, but the song resists reduction to a bonehead riff with dramatic chromatic climbs, a faux-Carribean breakdown, and a key change leading into the guitar solo.

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GToD #4–Middle Kids–“Real Thing, from New Songs for Old Problems (2019)

“Real Thing” is the super-hooky single from the latest EP by Australian band Middle Kids. Released a couple of months in advance of New Songs for Old Problems, “Real Thing” grabs attention with lead singer Hannah Day’s gorgeously stretched vowels on longing choruses that rise up from uneasy verses.

The melodies are supported by the guitars of Day herself and lead guitarist/bassist Tim Fitz, in a perennial rock style that fits into the channel of what is broadly called “alternative” or “indie.” The grungy chorus will certainly bring 90s associations for many.

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GToD #3–Gilad Hekselman—“Stumble,” from Ask for Chaos (2018)

In under one year, New York-based jazz guitarist Gilad Hekselman has released two strong collections as the primary artist: Ask for Chaos (September 2018) and Further Chaos (May 2019). Each features tracks by two ensembles that Hekselman leads. His GHex Trio consists of Helselman’s guitar, accompanied by stand-up bass and drums. In ZuperOctave, Hekselman takes charge of both of guitar and bass in a setting that also includes keyboardist Aaron Parks and drummer/percussionist Kush Abadey. With Hekselman making liberal and dramatic use of effects and his bandmates also embracing electronics, ZuperOctave finds startling and original sonic territory. It’s electronically-touched organic music that is, above all, jazz. More specifically, it’s sonically exploratory, harmonically adventurous jazz that doesn’t sound to me like what is usually called “fusion,” for the lack of rock-oriented beats. The track “Stumble,” from Ask for Chaos, is one among many ZuperOctave highlights.

“Stumble” arrested me immediately with its memorable opening melodic figure and a lush sound so whole it’s sometimes hard to tease apart Parks’s keyboards from Hekselman’s guitar.

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GToD #2: Baroness– “Seasons,” from Gold & Grey (2019)

The music of Baroness centers on guitarist/vocalist/songwriter/visual artist John Baizley, who is one of those people who can smile and still radiate heaviness. While the tracks released ahead of the June 14 release of Gold & Grey bear his unmistakable stamp, the band’s current lineup offers power and flexibility not heard even on its high-water mark album, 2012’s Yellow & Green or its acclaimed follow-up, Purple.

A case in point is “Seasons.”

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GToD #1: Stray Cats–
“Rock This Town,” from Built for Speed (1982)

The Stray Cats breakout track and video hit may well be the defining track of the first wave of retro rock. It’s now a classic in its own right. Brian Setzer masterfully accompanies his throwback-cool vocals with clean-toned, slapback-echoed guitar moves that include jazzy sliding chords; rockabilly triads extended with sixths; and two tight, confident solos—not to mention a motor of a main riff. Released decades after the peak of rockabilly, “Rock This Town” might have seemed, at first, like the product of one more group of costumed MTV opportunists, but Setzer, along with bassist Lee Rocker and drummer Slim Jim Phantom, showed confidence that rockabilly was as enduring and vital as a lovingly cared-for 1950s hot rod with a tank full of fuel.

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