Just as many rock fans have grown weary of tribute albums, so too must musicians have gotten tired of making them. Perhaps that explains why versatile guitar player Michael Lee Firkins opted to record an album of far-reaching cover tunes rather than concentrate on the work of simply one artist. Decomposition pays homage to the usual suspects (Jimi Hendrix. Lynyrd Skynyrd), as well as a few surprises (Duke Ellington and Henry Mancini). Plus, as if wanting to showcase his own particular songwriting capabilities, Firkins includes “The Window,” a beautifully haunting piece he wrote more than seven years ago as part of his pitch to Robert Plant when the former Led Zeppelin singer was auditioning new guitarists.
The album also marks the first time in years that Firkins has worked with a vocalist. Sonny Reece sings Skynyrd’s “I Need You” and “I Know A Little,” plus the Rick Derringer/Edgar Winter classic “Still Alive and Well” in a soulful yet gritty voice. Meanwhile Firkins displays his hard-rock roots throughout Decomposition. (He recorded three albums for shred-happy Shrapnel Records in the Nineties.)
For the most part, the guitarist remains faithful to the originals. One of the few exceptions is Firkins' interpretation of Mancini’s “Pink Panther,” which rocks with a blues-tinged vibe that makes certain passages of the song almost indistinguishable from the classic film theme. That said, Decomposition is an impressive album, but not an overwhelming one. In a musical landscape cluttered with so-called tribute albums, you can’t blame the record-buying public for viewing many artists opting for that format these days as has-beens too lazy to write their own material. That’s certainly not the case with a talent like Firkins, pegged by Guitarist magazine as a player to watch. More tracks like “The Window” would have been welcome here.