on latest album Werewolves of Portland
Former Racer X and Mr Big guitar maestro Paul Gilbert has some stunning solo albums in his catalogue (the last one, Behold Electric Guitar, is reviewed here on Bluesdoodles), as well as numerous appearances on ‘Tribute Albums’ many of which I own…for example, Paul excels on the Deep Purple, Jeff Beck, Jason Becker and Alice Cooper tributes but he is in his element in the ‘tribute band’ Yellow Matter Custard which, as the name is a suggests is all about the Beatles and also features music giants Mike Portnoy, Neal Morse and Matt Bissonette…they have two live albums on release if you want to join in the fun.
In planning his sixteenth solo album Paul, like so many, was seriously affected by the pandemic. The recording sessions and musicians were all booked in 2020 and then lockdown hit…not to be beaten, Paul instead realised that, in his own words,
“I could play all the instruments myself. I’ve always loved playing drums, and I can play bass and keyboards well enough to get the job done. It turned out that there was only one thing that I couldn’t play. The snare buzz roll at the end of the track ‘Hello! North Dakota!’. Everything else is me!”
… So now we can add smart-arse (not derogatory, just envy) to his already impressive CV!
As for the album title, Paul explains it thus:
“Initially, I was just thinking about the Warren Zevon song ‘Werewolves Of London’. I live in Portland and thought it would be funny to substitute the name of my much lesser known city. My original idea for the ‘Werewolves’ was just the guys in my band and me. When we play music, it is our version of ‘howling at the moon’. Unfortunately, Portland has become more ‘known’ in the last year, for events which are pretty sad to watch. And ‘Werewolves’ could take on other meanings that I certainly hadn’t anticipated. But the title, to me still has a musical meaning. The song [and album title] ’Werewolves Of Portland‘ features my guitar doing lots of ‘howling’.”
On a personal note, it’s nice to read a press release that has interesting content rather than the usual blandness; it also gave details on the Ibanez guitars he used which to me at least, is very interesting…although I am a Musician man…man! So thank you Paul and Mascot Records.
Now, when I first heard of the album title I immediately thought of one of my favourite TV series of recent years…Grimm. I was preparing all sorts of tortuous puns until I read Paul’s comments on recent occurrences there; suffice it to say, that I will refrain in the light of that.
Now, on to the music and this all instrumental offering begins with Hello North Dakota! which from the start is an engaging, lyrical slice of guitar rock that utilises effects and that Gilbert wizardry (sans shred)…he is actually a damn good bassist and drummer too on this evidence.
My Goodness has the guitars talking to each other as we get the lyrics without words through the deft phrasing. Some slide guitar shows up brilliantly and the bass is worth listening out for…only the bass drum sounds flat at times, as if it wasn’t miked quite right…but that is picky pickiness.
The title track, Werewolves Of Portland, does indeed howl in a good way and has many, many examples of Paul’s abilities as this is a glorious mix of rock, prog and the (sort of) bridge is pure blues loveliness. Next up is the fascinatingly titled Professorship At The Leningrad Conservatory; it’s about the Russian composer Dimitri Shostakovich and, although there is a Kinks bounce to the main melody, it also has an orchestral fell about it all as he builds layer upon layer with multi-tracked guitars. Loads of time changes and neat solos to loose yourself in as those layers compliment each other.
Argument About Pie was inspired by Paul’s favourite pie shop and the “what if people were against eating pie!” It’s a rapid fire song with slower chorded choruses and very cleverly put together. Meaningful has keys backing a slide melody that has a resonance that, at first, is slightly atonal, but soon embeds in the brain and is actually a stroke (slide?) of genius.
When Paul writes, he has word lyrics that he transposes into guitar speak and this is definitely obvious on I Wanna Cry (Even Though I Ain’t Sad). You can hear the words through the phrases over the rock ’n’ roll backing of the main melody.
A Thunderous Ovation Shook The Columns is also about Shostakovich as that title made up a review of the premier of his 5th Symphony (personally, I will always choose his 7th over the 5th as it feels more involving) and it has that composers touch when you hear the guitar’s loving creation in one movement. Problem-Solving People has verse and choruses set to a hefty rock riff and, like a few other tracks, has Paul playing the same runs on bass and it works a treat.
The final track, (You Would Not Be Able To Handle) What I Handle Everyday, shows again how the guitar can talk as Paul uses phasing, wah and a great riff to convey an upbeat message despite the title. More superb examples of his innate sense of rhythm, timing and enviable abilities.
As partially expected, the album has more shred than a Robertson’s factory but it has melody, depth, feeling and method unlike some of his peers. This is rock writ large with many a riff and many a solo and therefore this guitar mad geek likes it…a lot.
Bluesdoodles rating: 4 Doodle paws – a wonderful album for guitar lovers and players and lovers of lighting fast fretboard skills, packed with melodies.
Hello North Dakota!
Werewolves Of Portland
Professorship At The Leningrad
Argument About Pie
I Wanna Cry (Even Though I Ain’t Sad)
A Thunderous Ovation Shook The Columns
(You Would Not Be Able To Handle) What I Handle Everyday
(iTunes led me onto, inevitably, another Paul; another genius guitar player but far removed in style…Paul Kossoff was a master of the right number of notes in the right places and Tuesday Morning (off his solo album Back Street Crawler) is seventeen minutes of blues bliss….it takes up the entire side two on vinyl.