Thanks, Paul - your new record is seriously, seriously fun.
It sounds as if, in his never ending quest to marry melody with mind-blowing chops, Paul Gilbert has allowed us into the workstation of his mind. Stone Pushing Uphill Man is his new solo instrumental record, and it's filled with familiar tunes re-done Paul-style.
Kicking off an all instrumental album with Loverboy's 1981 multi-million selling Working For The Weekend might sound strange, but you'll smile as soon as you hear Gilbert apply some of his stunning histrionics to a very sincere rendition of the Canadian classic.
“For my new “Stone Pushing Uphill Man” album, I decided to bring my guitar to the forefront and let it sing. To do this, I used the inspiration of my favorite singers. Paul McCartney, Steven Tyler, Elton John, James Brown, Sting, k.d. lang, and more. These voices are always in my head. With my guitar I could finally reach their high notes. The challenge was to match their emotion and expression. This was my goal as a guitarist. “Stone Pushing Uphill Man,” is the first big step to truly find my voice on the guitar. I wanted the inspiration of my favorite singers for such a big challenge, so I chose a lot of cover songs. I think listeners will be surprised at what I’ve been able to do with the guitar”. ~ Paul Gilbert
That sums it up pretty well, and indeed Gilbert has upped the ante in terms of his fingers taking on the emotional content of some of rock's most enduring tunes, and delivering the goods, while also spicing the tunes up with the usual display of outrageous virtuosity. He's added some new sections within some these great songs, none better than on his glorious rendition of Elton John's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, in which the six stringer guitarizes this piano classic, and throws in a shred section that puts me in mind of some of Uli Jon Roth's more adventurous outings on old Scorpions' albums.
Gilbert differs from much of the original school of shred by sticking with his tremendous love of pop music and sophisticated song craft. You can hear the love coming off the fretboard - he's painstakingly recreated many layers of familiar road, using great tones and remaining faithful to the tune's original templates. Back In The Saddle is a great example - he cops Steven Tyler to a tee, and he's also re-voices Joe Perry, Brad Whitford, and Tom Hamilton's iconic bass line. If you're a player this album will get you playing, that's for sure. If you're just a lover of classic rock and hot guitars, I can't imagine a better way to drive up the Pacific Coast Highway on a sunny, Saturday afternoon.
He takes on some classic Jeff Beck tones and licks for his awesome reading of The Beatles' Why Don't We Do It In The Road - and you'll love that he kept the charming slide guitars from the original in the mix. Of course, there's some signature sizzle (I don't know if anyone can beat Gilbert on a note for note race that includes accuracy - the guy is like a machine that has now learned to feel), and it's another example of fun, fun, fun.
Murder By Numbers is another nice take - covering The Police is risky, but this jazzy take works all day long. Gilbert is definitely getting together his vocalizing via six string on this one. His phrasing, tone, and note choices keep things very interesting, and he never lets it bog down. He makes the tough stuff sound so damned easy that you almost forget that it's damned near impossible to play. I find this entire album to be fascinating - it's clearly Gilbert working on, and honing his skills on our time, but that's all right - it is never not tremendously joyful and exuberant, and that's the trick for shredding. Can you make it accessible, and musical? Paul has succeeded wonderfully in his mission.
K.D. Land even gets the treatment as Paul gets super soulful with acoustic guitar with electric toppings on Wash Me Clean. The clean tones are beautifully fat and sumptuous in that old Ry Cooder way. You could almost be excused for missing the atmospheric soundscape that's going on in the background - Paul has definitely seen to the details. All done with love.
The album ends with the title track, the one vocal tune on the record, and he's elected to keep it acoustic, right up until the moment when he kicks in a full band that's strutting the blues, replete with some appropriately sexy female background vocals. Of course, he clears the plates from the table with another sizzling exhibition of what he does best, and then he rides off into the sunset, victoriously.
Fun, fun, fun. Fun as fuck, in fact.