Joe Satriani - 'Black Swans & Wormhole Wizards'

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Joe Satriani - 'Black Swans & Wormhole Wizards'

This album is easily Joe Satriani’s best sounding record.

Joe Satriani is one of my favourite guitar players and is always a ‘must see’ when his regular tours come around, however, his recent albums have failed to consistently hold my interest and I haven’t enjoyed one all the way through for over a decade, since ‘Crystal Planet’ in 1998 in fact. Sometimes he’ll attempt to push the envelope and do something different, like his bluesy self-titled record or his dalliance with dance/trance samples and loops on ‘Engines Of Creation’, but I feel he’s at his best when he’s just playing instrumental rock guitar tunes with a solid band behind him, which thankfully he does here.

What sets him apart from a lot of his peers is the accessibility of his music, with simple melodies, a driving rhythm section and lead guitar lines that take the place of what would be vocals in non-instrumental music. It also helps that he can wring more emotion from his guitar than just about anybody else out there and I can’t help thinking that those who dismiss him as just another widdle merchant must have never actually listened to him. The likes of ‘Premonition’ for instance, are just pure melody lines over a simple and upbeat backing track and the blues influenced ‘Littleworth Lane’ has a lilting melody that displays admirable restraint and taste, and as always, the tune must come first. Both the shuffle of ‘Pyrrhic Victoria’ and the jazzy ‘Two Sides To Every Story’ have a big Jeff Beck vibe about them, the latter also featuring some sublime electric piano from ex-Frank Zappa/Steve Vai sideman Mike Kenneally, who makes several essential contributions to the album. Similarly Keneally and new bassist Allen Whitman both do great work on the catchy title-track and the laid-back ‘Wind In The Trees’.

‘Black Swans & Wormhole Wizards’ has many other highlights, not least the short-sharp rocker ‘God Is Crying’ and the eastern sounding ‘The Golden Room’ with its extended notes and inventive solos over a heavy percussive backing. I know music is subjective and all that but there are definitely at least two future Satriani classics here, the gritty rocker ‘Light Years Away’, and my pick of the bunch, the simply beautiful ‘Dream Song’ with it’s irresistible groove, wah-wah guitar and gorgeous repeated keyboard motif that gives me goosebumps in the same way that ‘Flying In A Blue Dream’ always has.

Brilliantly produced by the legendary Mike Fraser, BSAWW is easily Joe Satriani’s best sounding record and his best album overall for quite some time, the best bits are simply breathtaking.

Phil Ashcroft

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