A Journal Of The Dark Arts
Artist: Tommy West
Album: Frequencies Of The Sun
RIYL: Buckethead, Mark McGuire, Bill Frissell, Pat Metheny
The guitar has been called “an orchestra in itself”, by no less than Ludwig Van himself. That’s why it’s such a shame that not enough guitarists get past first position bar chord strumming – power chords and predictable picking patterns. Frequencies Of The Sun, the newest from Nashville guitarist Tommy West, breaks the cage wide open, to take you an expansive journey.
Frequencies Of The Sun is that rare and elusive beast, a solo guitar record. This is a plus, in this case. Too often, I hear good bands, who are obviously great musicians, only to have some fool open his mouth and start yarbling. I can’t tell you how many times i’ve thought, “This band would be great! Why did they have to ruin it with singing?” Tommy West has the gall to go it alone. But just because it’s an instrumental record doesn’t mean it’s all musical meandering. The album is rife with memorable hooks and leads, like on “Blue Marble Happy”, which is the perfect palm-swaying soundtrack for yr next beach outing, to beat this infernal heat.
“His style reflects 70s rock sensibilities; layers of acoustic guitars, odd tunings, familiar- yet-fresh and melodic guitar playing splashed against driving rhythms,” according to the press release. FOTS is steeped in ’70s guitar mysticism – along the lines of Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, which gives the sensation that you’ve heard it somewhere before, like when the title track trails off into a “Laylah” outro. Rather than being derivative, it just means West’s music is based in traditional values like melodicism, and strong song-writing, that understands the rules, and knows how to break them. Because of this, classic blues forms break down into heaving, chunky stoner riffs, preventing this from being New Age chaff. It’s also indebted, obviously, to the realm of the shredders – Vai, Satriani, and, of course, Buckethead – but in a way is reclaiming the genre from them, at least the first two. They value technical proficiency over emotional content, which I always thought was a damn shame, as solo guitar records can be quite a visionary journey, when the head and heart are lined up. Frequencies Of The Sun reminded me of Buckethead’s Colma, where the KFC-headed one evokes the sensation of a graveyard in California, as well as some of the ’70s John Fahey records, both of which are the highest possible compliments.
The album highlights for me are “Pyre Of The Pale Horse”, a soundtrack for an imaginary western, complete with horse whinny; Torn, which breaks the guitar template, to introduce some soulful, and very well played blues piano; and “Under The Dreaming True”, with it’s low ominous rumble, dripping water, and shamanic flute.
“Under The Dreaming Tree”, with it’s journey to the center of the Earth, shows where this record’s heart lies. The album’s mission statement claims, “His musical sensibilities flow from a spirit of compassion, humility, harmony, and unity resulting in a tall drink of water for a divided and burning world. Tommy’s latest album, Frequencies of the Sun, is a scenic ride through the cosmos, traversing the universe on waves of textured guitars with soaring melodies. Candy for the imagination and food for the soul.” While maybe 10 years ago I would’ve turned up my nose at such Wyndham Hill niceties, these days it practically seems to be the only thing that matters (apart from the music, of course). With so much music out there, if you’re a dick, I’m probably not going to listen to yr music. It’s weird, this quality of character is conveyed somehow in the etched grooves and binary jams. Something is transmitted.
I dub Tommy West pure of heart, and thankfully, he’s got the chops to transmit something beautiful, to take you on a journey for an hour, through the Big Green Universe. The only downside is the record suffers, somewhat, from a digital shellac, that detracts from it’s warmth, and makes it edgy, when it should be seductive. A couple of you, buy a copy, so Mr. West can buy some mastering time!
You can do so from Big Green Universe