Guthrie Govan

The Aristocrats — Tres Caballeros

Tres Caballeros **** The Aristocrats’ third album is a total winner for me…and anyone who is into modern shred-style dynamic playing should definitely acquaint themselves with this band. The Aristocrats is a supergroup of sorts comprised of Guthrie Govan on guitar, Bryan Beller on bass and Marco Marco Minnemann on drums and percussion. These guys are all great players and writers and have pedigrees that include work with Asia, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, and Dweezil Zappa. In a world awash with music and crap and sound and crap and crap and crap, there is still pure musicianship that is capable of jarring even the most aged, jaded listener (that would be me). While I didn’t know it when I originally mentioned posted, this disc was recorded all the way back in 2015, but since nothing new has been recorded since, this post is still a review of the band’s latest album (hehe) so I feel totally current and on-point. In addition to being a full-fledged post in the blog queue, this review will be added to the ever-expanding section under the “ALT” column in due time along with all of the other er, ALT stuff I’ve reviewed.

I have to admit that I don’t necessarily like bands like The Aristocrats as a rule. I never really listened to Vai, Satriani, Malmsteen or most of those shred/instrumental types mainly because I don’t hear a sense of humor or a certain dynamic sensitivity that I look for in music, therefore I find it hard to listen to. Let’s say a lot of seems to be made to impress and that’s it. Others will disagree I’m sure and that’s how music is; different strokes and all that. I would never dispute the guitar talents of any of those cats, or others like them, because they are obviously all great players. It’s just a matter of what type of music the guitarist/chooses as the environment from which to express. My tastes tend to either to the old school (Beck, Zappa, Howe, McLaughlin) or the Jazz Acoustic Manouche school (Lagrene, Rosenberg, Romane, Wrembel). So this is a bit of a departure for me, but I’ve really enjoyed the experience. The first thing that struck me about the Aristocrats is, aside from being great players, they obviously have a twisted sense of humor and don’t take themselves too seriously. I like that in a band, especially a band as “chops-city” as these guys. There is a great otherworldliness about the band; they would have made great guest stars playing some super-psycho dive bar on the rim of some spectral twilight in an episode of the X-Files. This wonderful weirdness pervades the music of the disc and the personality of the band and what’s not to like about that, I ask ya?

Musically the band is like a Ferrari; it goes from a sparse whisper to an over-the-top flurry of notes, percussive hits or rhythmic shifts in the space of a few bars. Sometimes this is dizzying…and if I were to say anything critical what I would say is that there were one or two places where I thought the rapid shift move was used one too many times, but let’s not quibble. There is no filler on the disc; every track is killer and obviously the band wanted each tune to be a statement in and of itself. The disc begins with a palm-muted, clean, almost chicken-picked guitar riff that segues into clean thrash and crash with Rush-style keyboard. Guitarist Guthrie Govan has a lot of love for all of the various classic tones he can wring from his axe, but then he’ll rip out something totally futuristic; the affected (with what I don’t know) quick picking legato on the solo to this track, Stupid 7, is pretty intense, yet just long enough to WOW! and then it’s back to the theme. Jack’s Back has a very odd-meter, bluesy vibe to it with some great solos from bassist Bryan Beller and some really tasty lines from Guthrie. Even though there are a lot of different styles to be found on the record, they meld them seamlessly into a singular sound that is very consistent and entertaining.

Texas Crazy Pants reminds me of a bit of 70s Fleetwood Mac multiplied by a factor of 500 with added crunch, UFO sounds and police sirens. The funny story that inspired this song (a lot of the band’s songs are inspired by weird life stuff) can be found online. It’s a great little rockin’ number though; one of the most balls-out on the disc. ZZ Top (yes that’s the name of the song) kind of reminds me of Rush’s Subdivisions, from the early 80s and I mean that in a good way. It’s a cool tune, but I don’t know why it’s named after the little ol’ band from Texas because it doesn’t put anything about that band in my head at all. But maybe it’s a head fake…

The next tune, Pig’s Day Off, is really pretty; a very clean, chordal, dynamic tune that descends into some twisted riffs and Zappa-style ensemble playing. This is one of the songs where the “jamming” is excessive I think…and that’s only because the mellow vibe of the tune is so great that the whole tune could’ve progressed in this manner without everyone going Bates Motel. But I stopped doing acid a long time ago so maybe I’m just too old to really appreciate it as much as I should. Smuggler’s Corridor is the anthem of the disc; a minor key surf rock that has everything but the kitchen sink, including Ennio Morricone-style vocalizing (The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly). Guthrie’s soloing on this tune is nothing short of brilliant; tasteful where it needs to be and completely crazy and off the charts when he cuts loose. Bryan Beller also does a nice little bass solo as well. The rhythm vibe had my girlfriend and cat dancing around the kitchen, which is a sure sign of success.

Pressure Relief has more chicken-palm picking, fast legato runs and an envelope filter/wah tone that is really cool. It also features some nice guitar harmonics, double stops and chords. Guthrie doesn’t use a lot of over-the-top distortion (at least on this disc) and is able to do all of the amazing guitar things he does with a very clean sound, which I think gives the band a more sophisticated and multi-layered presentation. They sound like seasoned professionals playing high-wire instrumental music. The next tune, The Kentucky Meat Shower has a sound and a riff straight outta Nashville y’all… and Nashville is pretty close to Kentucky so I think that’s why it sounds like that. HA! Later in the tune it goes all METAL FACE! It’s pretty funny, which fits the topic of the tune as it is another crazy “real-life” story from long ago. (Guthrie relates the background of the story on YouTube). The final tune Through the Flower is a supremo 11-minute prog-rock ballad that features amazing playing from all three instrumentalists and is a kind of synthesis of everything that has already occurred on the album. It’s a nice wrap up and the tune has a nice riff, great chords and cool use of effects as well. I would rank this tune, Smuggler’s Corridor, Texas Crazy Pants, and Pressure Relief as my favorites but there is something for any prog/fusion guitar head on this album. It’s certainly a great effort from three really awesome musicians and I hope they get back into the studio real soon!

Tidbits V

and so we come to the final weeks of another year! Give yourself a big pat on the back! You made it! That’s not always easy to do, ya know? Don’t let any of that Holiday-type stuff get you down, because…totally not worth worrying about. In this day and age one can boycott the Holiday Season but I’m not that much of a revolutionary, so I’ll just ignore most of it. I had a pretty happening Thanksgiving and Xmas the last two years, so except for a dinner with some fam this weekend, I’m gonna be taking it easy.

Last month in Tidbit IV I wrote about how I had “discovered” The Aristocrats; a funky fusion band that stars guitar sensation Guthrie Govan. I’ve seen a lot of Guthrie on YouTube over the years; in addition to being an amazing guitarist/player/teacher, he has always introduced himself like, “Hey, it’s Guthrie” like it’s no biggie and he was the guy you smoked spliffs with the night before. But he has this very formal-type of British accent so it’s like you hung out and smoked spliffs with royalty the night before…Way cool. Anyway, I promised to buy the latest music and report back and true to my word, I have done that and now own the Tres Cabelleros album. The music is actually older than I thought; it was recorded many years ago in 2015. The band: Guthrie Govan guitars, Bryan Beller Bass and Marco Minnemann drums, convened at legendary Sunset Sound studios in Hollywood, USA and banged out nine absolutely FUSION tunes. I haven’t listened enough to write a proper review, but this music is definitely TIP-TOP great and recalls the best of Zappa, Jeff Beck, Satriani, Di Meola, but is also thoroughly original. All three musicians are fan-friggin-tastic and Guthrie does some totally mind-blowing things on the guitar. Much of this material is also online in video form, so you can check it out for yourself, without even buying the music! (But if it rubs you the right way, you should probably buy the music). I’m just not sure about the name…it’s more than likely a British thing. If you search for “The Aristocrats” though you either come upon a movie you probably don’t want to see or that dirty joke…that someone made a movie about that you probably don’t want to see. But I guess the band likes it and at this point it’s too late to change.

Speaking of buying the music, well that’s the other interesting part of this story. As you know, I have been doing my best to keep up with everexpanding landscape of the musical/guitar/instrument business and have written on the topic many times. How and where I bought The Aristocrats music is pretty neato because I didn’t get it on iTunes, or @Amazon or from some CD clearinghouse online or even a boutique dealer here in NYC that specializes in hard-to-find music that pretty much nobody is going to buy (proportionally I mean). I purchased the music through Jam Track Central, which is an instrument instruction site based in the UK. I had the option to buy just the band’s music or the music and some backing tracks or a Grand Pack that included tabs, backing tracks and the music. Pretty awesome and the exactly correct place for this band to be as the people who are going to be the most into it will probably (at least a few of them) want to learn how to play it.

I’ve certainly profiled other teachers, teaching tools and teaching sites over the years; that was always a major focus from the beginning of this blog. You can find a nice list in the right column. The JTC site is certainly in the same ballpark as DC Music School and The Rosenberg Academy, both of which I have written about here over the years. I’ve been a member/buyer of both places and now am a member of JTC! They even send me their Help Wanted notices! I also wrote in review of Gypsy Jazz stylist Romane’s CD Gypsy Fire, that the disc came with tabs and a second disc that contained backing tracks! So this is an idea that has been around for a while and is an effective method of organizing and providing content to a specific audience and “teh tech” allows it to be provided easily and at a low-cost. I’ll admit that personally, I’m too long in the tooth to be taking on a further guitar instruction, but that’s okay. I can still take advantage of the listening end and hopefully younger players will jump on all of this stuff and make good use of it because it’s a great way to learn a whole lot of cool stuff quickly!

In other news…Lately I have been a music reviewing machine! There is new content in the Rock and ALT/Jazz sections of the site and more to come! Look for The Aristocrats review soon! Great to read when you’re bored at work!

Finally, a few months ago in this post I questioned the purpose of Bohemian Rhapsody, the Freddie Mercury biopic, and sort of, kind of predicted it would flop. Boy was I wrong about that! I haven’t seen it myself but a few people I know, NONE OF WHOM WAS EVER A QUEEN FAN saw it, thought it was great and then proceeded to buy Bicycle Race or something! I guess that’s a good thing. One of these people is a younger female and it’s pretty funny talking about Queen or classic rock with her. Or anything actually. ‘Cause before she saw this movie no music produced prior to Shakira!! was worth more than a big EWWWWW. But now she’s an expert on Queen and 70s Rock. Whatever it takes to get more people into great music is fine with me! Movies like Bohemian Rhapsody function as stealth marketing for people who would never listen otherwise. If I would’ve given this chick a CD (LOL a CD…what are you? A million years old?) of Queen’s Greatest Hits it would’ve never been opened. But, by making an updated version of the story that checks all of the right boxes on current-year thinking and sensibilities with some hot young actors and actresses…GOLD MINE! Genius! Brilliant! So I guess I learned something there. On the other hand…I’ve gotten back to being semi-active on social media and have learned that there’s a lot of hate for Rock Holograms out there in the universe…so on that front…WINNING!

Tidbits IV

Roy Clark, one of the best entertainers ever known to man, passed away this week at the age of 85. Not only was Roy a SUPREMELY-Talented guitar player, multi-instrumentalist, and singer, but he was also an extremely funny guy and an absolute natural in front of an audience or the camera. His jokes, quips, comedic timing and facial expressions always made the awesome guitar prowess that would inevitably follow even more impressive. I wrote about Roy a few years ago in a post titled, Guitar Teevee in the 1970s. That post included the following clip that also featured the late, great Flip Wilson.

While Roy was known for the Hee Haw television show, he was all over television during the 60s, 70s, and 80s because he could be counted on to deliver a superb musical performance and very humane and engaging humor if the situation warranted. His likeability factor was completely off the charts. Over the course of a 60 year career he thrilled many a live audience with his renditions of Orange Blossom Special, Foggy Mountain Breakdown, Malaguena, Ghost Riders in the Sky, Yesterday When I Was Young and I Never Picked Cotton. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2009 and will forever be known as an outstanding musician and true gentleman of the guitar. Safe travels Roy!!

Last week I watched a few videos of The Aristocrats, a super-duper musical unit featuring guitarist Guthrie Govan, bassist Bryan Beller, and drum/percussionist Marco Minnemann. I guess they could be called a modern super-group of sorts because they have all played with major stars including Asia and Joe Satriani, and did a G3 tour at one point I believe. I don’t know much about them except for the fact that I’ve seen Guthrie online for years and marveled at his outlandish and otherworldly chops. But I like the sound and the chemistry these guys have and hear influences that include the best of 70s rock, Frank Zappa, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones and maybe Blow by Blow-era Jeff Beck and John McLaughlin‘s Mahavishnu Orchestra. Everyone seems to be referring to them as “fusion” and I don’t know if that’s fair. FUSION can be one of those dirty labels that is usually uttered in disdain, or at least with a huge buildup of phlegm in the back of the throat. No matter…I’m gonna pick up their latest album for the holidays and give it a go…and then, of course, they’ll be a review…for you!

Another phenomenal talent that I’ve recently discovered is Muriel Anderson. She really rocks out on this cover of Stevie Wonder’s Superstition! What a great player! She demonstrates her abilities on a multitude of pieces, including some that involve harp guitar, which looks really hard. Her disc, Nightlight Daylight is available here and I’ll be picking this up as well. Not only does it look to be chock full of great music and some really special guest appearances (Tommy Emmanuel, Victor Wotten, Phil Keaggy, Stanley Jordan) but it is also, according to Guitar Player magazine, one of the top 10 discs of the decade and it has the first ever fiber optics cover. I’m really looking forward to getting this! So look for a review and more on Muriel (and The Aristocrats) real soon!

To follow-up on the last post, I watched a bunch of stuff on YouTube this week that featured the Ditto Looper, which I just purchased from Sweetwater. Since the launch of this blog in 2011, I haven’t spent much time talking about gear since I haven’t really acquired much in the last few years. Over the course of my guitar career I used a TON OF STUFF…and I still have some so I was thinking I will probably do a retro post on GEAR I USED! Brilliant!

Anyhow, there are some very interesting tutorials that provided some really great tips here, here, here, and here…as well as the video above this paragraph obviously. These links feature various tips and tricks and give a great overview not only on the functionality of the Ditto, but also how to use a looper pedal in general. While the pedal can be a great practice tool and also a great creative aid, it can also just be a lot of fun and there are also many nice demonstrations of people playing various musical pieces here, here, here and even the above-mentioned Guthrie Govan using a Ditto here!

This is a powerful pedal and a way powerful musical concept as well and I’ve already had some fun with it. Hopefully, I will post something of my own in the future, but right now we’re in the process of totally cleaning and clearing out the apartment of all manner of digital and analog stuff from 20+ years of accumulation. This will probably be a couple-month project, but it is very necessary to do it and we’ve already begun, so that will take up what’s left of this year. In the process we’ll be getting complete upgrade on computers and all software and this will hopefully result in some audio/video production that will be on The Guitar Cave next year. We’ll see how it all works out!