Mike Keneally Band – Guitar Therapy Live: Like the Rush Replay X3 DVD release a couple weeks back, I can't even begin to pretend to be impartial here. Keneally is absolutely one of my all-time favorites. But that doesn't mean I'm going to steer you wrong — if I thought this wasn't an easily palatable platter of fine phonic fun, I would have little problem saying so. And that is most definitely not the case here.
With Guitar Therapy Live, guitarist Keneally has whittled the results of several seemingly spectacular shows down to one solid disc. I usually have problems with multi-show "live" documents, but sometimes they're just done right and luckily I can say that's how this one turns out. Instead of feeling like it's been edited together and suffering from being the sum of many parts, GTL becomes the greater whole. Even longtime fans who may have traded with other fans (with Keneally's consent) for dozens and dozens of his shows will find this a pleasing set. There isn't a dud moment in the entire runtime.
For those new to Keneally, he is best described as the heir to the Zappa throne, and don't take that lightly. While many may toss out the obvious names of Steve Vai and Zappa's own son, Dweezil, Keneally is the only guitarist who possesses the skills and taste needed to pull off what Frank himself could. Because Keneally is humble, you'll probably never see him mount a project such as Zappa Plays Zappa (also because he wouldn't technically fit the bill) but he absolutely deserves to be the one playing those solos. The spirit of Zappa lives on in Keneally — except maybe not as vulgar (you actually can play Mike's music for your entire family without fear of needing to skip over anything!)
Those interested in obtaining a session of Guitar Therapy are HIGHLY urged to do so via Keneally's official site where they can purchase the deluxe edition, which will not be available in stores and which features a bonus DVD of a full, uncut performance shot live last summer (some of which was used for the audio disc.)
Brad Mehldau – House On Hill: Mehldau's classical-meets-jazz style playing intrigues the hell out of me. There's a rigidity to some of his work that strains at the liquid core of his trio, who are a more traditionally jazz-oriented rhythm section of drums and bass. That's not to say there's anything particularly traditional about Mehldau's music — it's equally beautiful as it is cutting and slashing, and often at the same time.
While last year's Day is Done introduced new drummer Jeff Ballard, House On Hill marks the final trio recording of Jorge Rossy, who left to pursue new avenues of music and to spend time with his family in Spain. What remains to be seen is if House On Hill can top Day is Done — I have a feeling not, because that was a truly incredible piece of work, and Ballard was an absolute key to why it worked so well. House On Hill, however, will likely be another beautiful entry in Mehldau's catalog, and a fitting goodbye to Rossy. It just may have been more satisfying for everyone had the release dates been switched.
Grant-Lee Phillips — nineteeneighties: The great Grant Lee Buffalo may be long gone, but the heart was always just the voice and guitar of Phillips anyway, wasn't it? In between takes as Gilmore Girls' resident town troubador, Phillips found a few free moments to record this stripped down tribute to his favorite songs from, you guessed it, the 1980s. Before you start rolling your eyes, give it a chance — his choices are slightly more obscure than you might think (REM's "So. Central Rain," a strangely fitting Hawaiian take on the Pixies' "Wave of Mutilation," believe it or not) and even ones that are slightly more obvious are so fitting for his voice that you simply have to hear them — such as the Church's "Under the Milky Way" (I was sold on this the moment I saw that mentioned — I could hear his voice handling this very well, and from what I've heard, it's as beautiful as I expected it would be.)
Richard Thompson — 1000 Years of Popular Music: The story goes that Thompson was asked by Playboy magazine to write a piece about his favorite songs of the millenia, for, as you might guess, a turn-of-the-millenium story they were doing. He took it literally, unlike most others who partook in the project who just dug back to the '40s and '50s, and went back to the beginning of the millenium for inspiration. Thompson's work was all for nought, of course, because Playboy chose not to use his piece, but that didn't stop him from putting on a solo performance to feature the songs he chose, which was released on his website for purchase. A few years later, he decided to re-perform the songs with a trio in front of cameras for a DVD release, and this set is the result — a DVD and two CDs of the audio from the show.
I'm a new convert to Richard Thompson's camp, and I'm sure this is just going to overwhelm me, but the idea of someone covering music from, as the title suggests, the past 1000 years, and it's not done in a tongue-in-cheek manner, like "Oh, get a load of this old medieval crap!"? Not to mention a completely serious cover of Britney Spears' "Oops I Did It Again" (about which AllMusicGuide notes he has said, "Taken out of context, this is a pretty nice song." It takes a big man to say that.) Well, I just have to check that out. Come on, aren't you curious, too?