Surely Gary Hoey needs no introduction…this is the rock and blues guitarist’s twenty-first album after all. Plus, he holds the significant honour of being one of the very, very few artists to be allowed into my house as far as Christmas music is concerned. Seriously, if you want to hear tired old Christmas songs transformed into something worth listening to try out the Ho! Ho! Hoey albums…or Merry Axemas volumes one and two. They are the only ones that this bah-humbug miserable git recognizes the event with. Admittedly I don’t have all of his other output as the shredding side of his rock playing is not a regular genre for me…this new release, Neon Highway Blues, is a different beast and builds on the excellent Dust and Bones album he did in 2016. This is most definitely blues-rock and, along with a couple of special guests, he has channelled all of his prowess and energy into putting the blues through his (mainly) Stratocaster wizardry and serving up to eleven tracks of quality rocking blues. He has again focused on the composition of melody, lyrics and solos and, while we still get arpeggios aplenty, they are designed with the song rather than just wild soloing that some players seem unable to find a cure for. This album clearly shows that Gary is a fluid and tone aware guitarist who has fused rock and blues in an interesting and entertaining way.
It all starts with a funk laden blues-rock duet with Eric Gales called Under The Rug. The funk is there throughout and reinforced by the harmony riffs and solos which are stunning. The guitar refrains are underpinned by some tasty B3 and this gives Gary and Eric the freedom to play around with the melody in their solos. Next track, Mercy Of Love, has Josh Smith adding his touch to a slower heavy blues (check out his recent Burn To Grow CD if you don’t know Josh and be amazed). This defines blues in its guitar phrasing as it speaks to you before the words even begin, and continues to punctuate the verses before building up to a clever solo from each player. A complete contrast next, as we get a glorious slide guitar weaving throughout Your Kind Of Love…by its very nature the bottleneck reduces the notes, adds a slinky tone that, when played as well as it is here, makes me rejoice. The song has a swing and a Texas feel that makes this such a damn good song. Don’t Come Crying is next and features Gary’s son on guitar. Ian Hoey is a real talent too and adds some Kossoff tinges to the guitar interjections along the way. The electric lilt is maintained through the solos as the temptation to add too many notes is, largely, resisted. Still Believe In Love is full of blues clichés and it works just great! Yes, the basic rhythms and riffs are familiar, but the sparser guitar and that wonderful B3 again, make it a welcome addition as the familiar is renewed. Next up is the first instrumental, Almost Heaven, and shows more blues restraint as the acoustic to electric song develops into an emotional, textured and melodic tune. OK, it could have appeared on many a Morse or Satriani album but it has a feel that keeps you within the fabric of the melodies, as the previously mentioned geniuses (genii?) do so effortlessly. I Felt Alive brings us the best of both worlds…slide, clean and fuzzed picked sections that all add up to a heavier blues of quality. The bass shines on this one too with a (comparatively) simple and effective sound. The solo is one the best on the album as the carefully chosen notes have echo added in parts to generate atmosphere, as does the closing thirty seconds with just the guitar and piano taking us to the end. Another instrumental appears with Waiting On The Sun as Gary slowly builds tension with slow picked chords. Then his lead takes the place of lyrics rather well and allows the whole thing to develop into a narrative that you will interpret as you will as the mood takes hold. Guitar star Lance Lopez is the guest on Damned If I Do and, together they make this rock song into a powerful blues based shuffle that you will put on repeat, as I have. The slide is subtle, suggestive and sleazy; the riff just the right side of formulaic and the solos are err…electric, brilliant and, importantly, fitting in the sense of the song and the wider blues-rock framework. Penultimate track, Living The High Life is a southern tinged blues-rock with a neat rhythmic pattern to it. The solo, while pure genius, is a bit too fast and technical for my mind as I envisaged a more restrained and swampy feel was warranted…but that’s just me. Final and title track, Neon Highway Blues is an instrumental that has a surprising twang and slow almost Hawaiian guitar sound…it is actually, despite that description, a slow, yet uplifting example of controlled guitar playing.
This is, I’m sure, an album that will divide blues fans…the purists will want to dismiss it; the broader minded will welcome it with open arms. I would advise, do not dismiss…listen carefully and more than once to absorb the skill and true blues foundations behind every track. For me, it is a blues-based, quality work that I will return to regularly and wonder every time at the skill and dexterity on display.
EIGHTdoodle paws out of TEN …
- Under The Rug (feat. Eric Gales)
- Mercy Of Love (feat. Josh Smith)
- Your Kind Of Love
- Don’t Come Crying (feat. Ian Hoey)
- Still Believe In Love
- Almost Heaven
- I Felt Alive
- Waiting On The Sun
- Damned If I Do (feat. Lance Lopez)
- Living The Highlife
- Neon Highway Blues
Gary Hoey: guitar, vocals
Matt Scurfield: drums
A J Pappas: bass
(Apologies to the very adept keyboard player…I couldn’t find a credit for you…so, please take this one)