Guitar legend Jeff Beck is not exactly prolific, it has been seven years since his previous album, Jeff. But for his legion of fans, it is always worth the wait. His latest, Emotion & Commotion is certainly no exception. Although Beck's searing guitar work is his indelible signature, he likes to play with the contexts he drops it into.
The Jeff Beck Group started things out in 1968 with Truth, a classic album that set the template for what would come to be called hard rock, and later heavy metal. His biggest commercial success would come in the mid-seventies in collaboration with Jan Hammer on the fusion-ish Blow By Blow and Wired. He would throw fans for a serious loop in 2001 with the electronica of You Had It Coming.
Jeff Beck seems to have found a near perfect balance on Emotion & Commotion. The ten tracks feature a nice mix of covers and originals, vocals and instrumentals. "Corpus Christi Carol" opens the record up in a nearly spiritual way. It is the first of two tributes to Grace by Jeff Buckley, an album that obviously meant a great deal to him.
Next is "Hammerhead," which is the closest thing to Wired he has recorded in over 30 years. Jeff Beck has always been known for his powerful guitar sound, but he also plays some of the cleanest leads a person will hear. This is displayed to great effect on "Never Alone." An absolutely beautiful version of "Over The Rainbow" concludes the opening instrumental section of the disc.
Next up is version of the classic Screamin' Jay Hawkins track "I Put A Spell On You." Joss Stone does her best Screamin' Jay, and acquits herself admirably. "Serene" pits the guitar of Beck against the bass of Tal Wilkenfold in a glorious bout of give and take. I really wish Beck would utilize this format more often, but he is after all The Star.
The second Jeff Buckley Grace tune is next, titled "Lilac Wine." It should be noted that neither "Corpus Christi Carol," or "Lilac Wine" were written by Buckley, but Beck states in his notes that Buckley's versions of them on Grace were what inspired him to use them. "Nessun Dorma" is another beautiful instrumental interlude, before the return of belter Joss Stone. She gives it her all on "There's No Other Me," and for once Beck holds back a bit, not shredding the tune the way he had originally intended, but giving it "a short bit of energy – like a Scotty Moore or Cliff Gallup solo."
Finally we come to "Elegy For Dunkirk." The gorgeous voice of opera singer Olivia Safe "lifted this song completely out of the water," says Beck, and I couldn't agree more. The song is from the film Atonement (2007), and Beck transcribed the melody from the cellos that played it on the soundtrack. The results are transcendent.
With Emotion & Commotion, I believe that Jeff Beck has released his most consistent album since his glory days of the 1970s. This is a great one.