Monday 28 October 2019

Vinnie Moore - Soul Shifter (2019)

Country: USA
Style: Neo-Classical Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 9 Oct 2019
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Back in the late eighties when guitar shredders seemed to be falling out of the woodwork, I found many of them tedious. There were exceptions. Steve Vai made very interesting music and I really dug Tony McAlpine and Vinnie Moore, who were both part of that scene but found a lot more texture than the norm. Nowadays, the genre is more palatably named neo-classical metal, but that's a name that brings to mind Yngwie Malmsteen rather than Vinnie Moore, who's also been a fantastic guitarist for UFO since 2003.

This is a hard rock album as much as it is a neo-classical metal album, with a lot of funk and jazz to flavour it. It can't be too surprising to find the funk dominating the opening track, Funk Bone Jam, but it's overt in Kung Fu Grip too, which is also a lot more interesting musically, reminding in turns of Jeff Beck, Steve Vai's talkative guitar and, with the liquid tone midway, even Peter Frampton.

In between those two tracks is a more soulful piece, Same Sun Shines, which is the only song here that reminds of me of another piece of music, not that I can place what. I just feel like I've heard these melodies before and the track plays out rather like an instrumental take on a vocal piece, with the lead guitar replacing a voice.

After them comes Mystified and Brother Carlos, less instrumentals and more a pair of solos, as focused as they are on Moore's pure and fluid guitar which soars and wheels and swoops. It's great stuff from Moore but less great from whoever else is here backing him up, because they have very little to do but keep a vague texture in place behind him. The other most famous name here is Rudy Sarzo.

Fortunately that isn't the case on everything here as those other musicians do get their moments in the spotlight, like the bass in Funk Bone Jam, and a lot more to do on other songs, like Soul Rider. This is a lesser piece, even if it's still a good one, but it's constructed well so that those musicians get the chance to actually contribute some talent rather than just hold back to showcase the guitar hero on the cover.

There's some of that in Gainesville Station too, which turns into a southern rock song, right down to the honky tonky piano that shows up late on. This could be a solo showcase stuck halfway into a Lynyrd Skynyrd song like Call Me the Breeze. This variety is one of the reasons the album is as good as it is and it's one of the reasons that Mind's Eye stood out for me back in 1986 when Moore was a young shredder on the rise.

A few years ago, we flew over to Scotland so that we could be at the wedding of my best friend growing up. I honestly delayed the flight out for one day so that I could see UFO live at Joe's Grotto, a tiny and, as of this week, a late lamented live music venue here in Phoenix. They blew me away and Moore was a key part of why. Of course, he has a specific job to play in UFO which prevents him from taking the sort of musical avenues that he can take on his solo albums. I just hope UFO fans buy them to see what else Moore can do.

Here, they'll find that he can play like other guitar heroes, whether they be vaguely namechecked (like who do you think Brother Carlos is about?) or reasonably obvious (Mirage feels very much like a Jeff Healey song to me). They'll find that he can dance seamlessly from one genre to the next, with a rock song following a soul song, which following a funk song. They'll find, without much surprise, that he's damn good at doing whatever he feels like doing. And, while I learned that in 1986 listening to Mind's Eye, I do feel that he's matured immensely over the decades.

If you don't know Vinnie Moore yet, go see UFO live and buy this.

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