Release Date: 13 Mar 2020
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If you only know the name of Chris Poland from old Megadeth albums, this may come as quite the surprise, not least when rapper Rhymefest starts to do his thing on opener, Battle Bots. No, this isn't a rap album, it's a solo guitar album and Poland works through a heck of a lot of styles over a dozen songs, most of them entirely instrumental. And no, it's not remotely like his first solo album, Return to Metalopolis, either, because that was shred. This is a fusion album at heart, even if it gets heavy at points.
If you're an older school rock fan with at least a few Jeff Beck albums in your collection, you'll immediately see a similarity. For all that a couple of songs do have vocals on them, this isn't about writing songs. It's about exploring what the guitar can do within a framework that non-guitarists can appreciate too. And, for the most part it works, because the guitar can do a heck of a lot and Poland has fun underlining that here.
I didn't know until reading up on him that he used to play jazz fusion with drummer Gar Samuelson even before the pair of them joined Megadeth. That he went back to it after Megadeth and a brief stint on bass in the Circle Jerks shouldn't be too surprising. He's recorded a bunch of albums with OHM and a joint project between OHM and Umphrey's McGee called OHMphrey.
After that fascinating opener, Poland gets heavy for a little while with The Kid and I Have No Idea, jazz fusion numbers with a lot of bass and a soaring guitar. He gets older school later with Sunday, the sort of accessible track that Tommy Vance would have spoken over in between blocks on The Friday Rock Show. The album wraps with a couple of jazzier songs, Maiden Voyage and Song for Brad, that are more for the die hards.
My favourite tracks ably serve to highlight the variety and versatility that is on offer here. Moonchild kicks off quiet and melodic, then, as the drums stay slow, Poland's guitar gets all bluesy and wild like a hair metal guitar solo. If it goes with half a dozen notes where one would usually do the job, Django flips that around and aims for a sparse but exquisitely beautiful Roy Buchanan approach. It's delicate and
And, hey, if you haven't heard of Roy Buchanan before, go and check out any version you can find on YouTube of The Messiah Will Come Again. I'm happy to be your introduction! Guitar playing isn't just about notes and how fast you can play them, it's about tone and emotion and dynamics and finding magical sounds that have never been played before that people will still be talking about decades on from your performance. I'm not saying that Poland nabs any of them here but he's certainly looking and Django is the piece in which he looks the most.
I'd also suggest that Django is the song where the backing musicians get the most to do beyond just supporting whatever Poland's doing. Billy Dickens is the bassist on everything else, but it's Kevin Woods Guin on this one, with co-producer Jim Gifford on drums and, I believe, David Taylor on the second guitar. It's easy to get lost in Poland's performance but kudos to the rest of the band on this one too.
As I mentioned earlier, if you like Jeff Beck's solo albums, you should like this too. The opener notwithstanding, it's not either as ambitious or as experimental as what Beck's done lately, but it ought to play well with his older albums. If you've never heard solo Jeff Beck and have no idea what jazz fusion is, I would suggest that this is as good a place as any to start.