Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Neal Schon - The Calling: A Guitarist's Journey
I love this record - Schon recorded it in just four days at Berkeley's famed Fantasy Studios, and it reveals just what a monster of a guitar player the guy has been for a great many years. The instrumental wizardry he possesses doesn't get much airtime when he wears his band hat for his day job as songwriter/sizzling soloist with the melodic rock institution that is Journey, and it's as much magic as there is in the possession of any shredder, or fusionist you'd care to name.
Steve Smith slams down a solid beat and some steam driven high hat work, and the metallic fusion of The Calling is called to order. Schon riffs heavily, carrying the tune's basic structure before he steps on the gas and combines wicked melodicism with a encyclopedic display of sheer virtuosity. Schon's pyrotechnical display of fireworks is astonishing.
Six String Waltz is a wonderfully romantic ballad, easily as engaging as any Journey hit, in terms of beauty and Schon's fielty to the high art of melody. This one will have you hitting repeat again, and again.
Big, big drums and a Middle Eastern twist of underlying strings are up next, and suggest a slight nod to Kashmir, as the guitarist gets heavy - this is as close to metal as it gets, and then some sophisticated changes and Smith's incredible stick work kick things up a notch into that high concept composition trip I mentioned earlier. This may have been recorded in four days, but there's many lifetimes of serious musicianship on display here. It's like Schon has chosen to knock the chip off the shoulder of those who would rather write about his personal life than his artistry. Back Smash is big, smart rock.
True Emotion is another large dollop of string bending, thick syrupy tone, and a sense of whimsical nostalgia - love lost, or found. It's a touching piece of melody that suggests many available
possibilities - how you respond to this tune, where it will have you go emotionally, will be up to where you are at when you hear it. It could be joyful, or just as easily tearful. Either way, it's a sweet way to get there.
Science fiction soundtracks could learn a thing or two from Primal Surge - it's very cinematic in scope and suggests terrains we've never seen and creatures never envisioned. If things don't work out for Schon as a pop star, maybe he has something here he can fall back on.
Transonic Funk is straight up swagger - Schon digs in hard and pops the strings, getting the distortion to punch out his message with great command. Smith, who's playing on this album is never less than fantastic, slows the pace down just a bit, and rides just behind Schon like a rider holding back the bridles on a race horse. But he can only hold him back for so long, and before you know it they are careening down the twisting hills and heading for a wah soaked valley. They've found the way home.
Schon recorded this album while on a break from some Journey tour dates. He's now back on the road with the band, but it would sure be great if he could get out and do some dates as just a guitar slinger. He deserves to hear his name right along side some of the other great guitar gods, and see his name mentioned when talk is of the true greats of the guitar.