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Music Review: Jeff Beck – Emotion & Commotion

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From a purely promotional standpoint, Jeff Beck's first studio album in seven years couldn't have had a better setup.

Emotion & Commotion comes on the heels of a series of high-profile live appearances with fellow guitar great and ex-Yardbird Eric Clapton, and last fall's star-studded 25th Anniversary concerts for the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame.

It also follows last year's Performing This Week… Live At Ronnie Scott's — an amazing live concert document captured during Beck's residency at the venerable jazz and blues club. Backed by his great band including drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, keyboardist Jason Rebello, and bass prodigy Tal Wilkenfeld, Jeff Beck tore the house down at this show, particularly during a stunning version of the Beatles' classic "A Day In The Life."

You'd almost think the guy was mounting a comeback or something — except that Jeff Beck has never really been away. Although he is known nearly as much for the long gaps between his recordings as he is for being one of the two or three best guitarists on the planet, when Jeff Beck drops a new album people just tend to take notice. 

Beck's albums don't just serve as reminders that he is one of the best in the world at what he does though. They also tend to reset the bar just that much higher for the rest of the pack. Perhaps because of their infrequency, albums like Blow By Blow or even the more recent Ronnie Scott's set have often been characterized by their brief, explosive bursts of stunning, and for my money anyway, quite unmatched guitar goodness.

Beck's solos just have this way of cutting through air like so many shards of shattering glass. The best part about them though, is the way they always leave you salivating for more.

The first thing you notice about the new Emotion & Commotion is that these same type of short, staccato blasts are somewhat less prevalent. But when they do come, they deliver exactly the same dizzying effect of literally knocking you on your tush, only to pick yourself up off the ground to ask, "thank you sir, may I have another?"

On "There's No Other Me" — one of the two tracks here featuring the sultry, soulful vocals of Joss Stone — Beck's guitar takes off into the stratosphere as Stone's superb vocal builds from a haunting cry to a howling, agonized crescendo. 

Beck is nothing if not a master of economy here, despite all of the pyro. He accomplishes more with a Strat and a whammy bar in a few seconds, than many guitarists have over the course of their entire careers. For their part, the rhythm section of Colaiuta and especially the always amazing Wilkenfeld provide a bottom so deep it's almost spooky.

Earlier on in the album, Beck takes a page out of the Jimi Hendrix playbook for the "Voodoo Child"-like, wah-wah intro of "Hammerhead," before venturing off into more familiar jazz-rock fusion territory and another round of guitar fireworks. Here again, the solos are kept short and sweet — but will leave your jaw dropping to the floor no less. 

On the more sublime sounding "Never Alone," and the Pat Metheny-like "Serene," Beck eschews the flash in favor of building a mood. Here again, his student Wilkenfeld compliments him perfectly on the bass on both tracks. Vocalist Imelda May likewise turns in an understated, but gorgeous-sounding performance on "Lilac Wine," which Beck matches with some equally lovely-sounding guitar flourishes. 

In her other appearance on this album, Joss Stone goes from purring like a cat to roaring like a beast on the slowly building "I Put A Spell On You". Meanwhile, Beck lets his guitar simmer in the pot alongside her for the most part, before hitting a full boil near the end.

When Beck is not doing time with Joss Stone and company here, he is backed by a full orchestra on more classical-oriented material like "Elegy For Dunkirk" (with vocalist Olivia Safe), "Nessun Dorma" and even a curious, if ultimately plaintive and satisfying "Somewhere Over The Rainbow."

In that respect, Emotion & Commotion is almost like two albums in one. Although the orchestral interludes tend to be brief, they also represent an interesting and even promising new direction for Jeff Beck — who even at this late stage of the game appears to be continuing to elevate his game as a constantly evolving artist and musician.

But don't take my word for it. The album comes out next Tuesday. In the meantime you can have a listen for yourself. The guitar mechanic has returned to active duty with a stunner.

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About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, Ultimate Classic Rock, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.
  • http://marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    wow, i didn’t even know this was out. yessir, Beck is the man.

  • Brien Comerford

    I have the Japanese import with two bonus tracks. This review is very accurate and compelling. Written by a writer who truly understands Jeff Beck’s amazing, eclectic virtuosity.

  • Tom Johnson

    NPR has this up for preview and it sounds pretty great. Good week for guitar – JB and Nels Cline in one week? Prepare your brain for battle.

    For those who care, Best Buy will have an exlusive CD/DVD version – they don’t state specifically what the DVD is, but my guess is it’s the import version that Amazon lists as 6 tracks from the 2001 Crossroads Festival. Worth getting no matter what at their price.

  • http://www.topgun-securityservices.com Kathy

    He is an absolute guitar god! I can’t wait til the 13th…only 3 more days. My ears and mind will be in heaven.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Thanx Tom (and everyone). In case you missed it, I included the link from NPR to listen to the album (towards the end of the review). Just got the Cline disc too…which I plan on checking out this weekend and hopefully getting a review up before Tuesday here as well.

    -Glen

  • Greg Barbrick

    Sounds like I better check this out.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    You can check it out now by following the link in the article. But yeah Greg, I think you’ll like this one a lot.

    -Glen

  • HEEREN

    I think some things are missed in review – firstly there is still a light shadow of electronic music influence there. Serene sounds like Groove Armada outtake with Beck over the chill out. There are also two moments where tunes are finishing when Beck is developing solo’s: one this song with Josh Stone

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    All things considered, I think this covers the bases pretty well. But thanks for stopping by anyway.

    -Glen

  • Don Quixote

    A terrific piece of work. Vai, Satriani etc, maybe you should try the triangle.

  • dan cook

    Nice review….too bad Jeff has assembled a new band and Wilkenfeld and Vinnie are gone. WOW…Please be embarassed.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    They are on the album Dan, even though they aren’t touring with him. Now, who’s embarrased?

    -G