ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, DEC. 1995
By Steve Newton
I must have gotten tired of listening to rock vocalists in 1995, because the majority of my top picks for the year turned out to be instrumental releases. Who needs to rack their brain deciphering lyrics when a well-handled guitar can do all the talking that’s required?
Joe Satriani Joe Satriani The Bay Area guitar god is now employing a more stripped-down musical approach that can be described in two words: Jeff Beck. Thank you, Lord.
Hellecasters Escape from Hollywood Mind-boggling guitar trio of Jerry Donahue, Will Ray, and John Jorgenson follows up its 1993 debut with an equally staggering serving of rootsy Telecaster madness, dedicated to the memory of similarly gifted guitarist Danny Gatton.
Mermen A Glorious Lethal Euphoria Bay Area instro-rock trio led by guitarist-songwriter Jim Thomas creates some mighty venturesome music that runs the gamut from Dick Dale–inspired surf-raunch to moody and cinematic soundscapes of the Ry Cooder ilk.
Huevos Rancheros Dig In! Incendiary Calgary trio proves once and for all that it’s superior to higher-profile Canuck instro-rock rivals Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet with a flamboyant mix of spirited originals and smart covers.
Steve Vai Alien Love Secrets Technically awesome guitar freak still plays too fast, but manages to corral the flash long enough to deliver some absorbing tunes. A call-and-response duet with his infant son’s “munchkin vocals” has to be heard to be believed.
Neil Schon Beyond the Thunder Ex-Journeyman hooks up with former bandmate Jonathan Cain for 11 enchanting tracks that subtly explore the textures of world music and smooth jazz. This may be the only “new-age” CD I’ll ever own.
Friends of Dean Martinez The Shadow of Your Smile With Bill Elm’s soaring steel guitar at the fore, Arizona instrumental quintet connects the vibes-driven sound of lounge music to the high-lonesome spaghetti-western work of Ennio Morricone.
Southern Culture on the Skids Dirt Track Date Tongue-in-cheek North Carolina trio exudes a sound that is part Tony Joe White swamp blues, part Slim Harpo hip-shake boogie, and part Creedence Clearwater Revival chooglin’ strut—all shot through with heavy doses of Link Wray and Duane Eddy. Ya gotta like it.
Goo Goo Dolls A Boy Named Goo Long-overlooked trio from Buffalo hits the big time with an invigorating batch of hook-filled, melodic guitar-rock tunes that take full advantage of the current Green Day–led punk-pop craze.
Golden Smog Down by the Old Mainstream Since I got an advance copy of this CD, it’s a 1995 release to me. Everyone else can pick up the wistful debut by this grassroots version of the Traveling Wilburys—featuring members of Run Westy Run, Soul Asylum, Wilco, and the now-defunct Jayhawks—in a couple of weeks. It’s worth the wait.