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MacAlpine, Tony: Violent Machine

Let me start this review by saying, I love instrumental rock. Yes, I was one of those shred heads in the late 80’s that purchased guitar instrumentals from David Chastain to Guy Mann Dude. At one time I practically owned the entire Shrapnel back catalog on cassette. It goes without saying that Tony MacAlpine was at the top of my list. I remember listening to his 1988 release "Maximum Security" and trying to identify his blinding solos from those of guest slingers George Lynch and Jeff Watson in the mix. Last year, Tony MacAlpine had to be one of the busiest guitar players on the planet. In the last year, he’s released a solo CD "Chromaticity", toured in G3 in Steve Vai’s band, released a live CD with PlanetX, and was nominated for a Grammy for Best Contemporary Jazz Album for his work on CAB2. Lion Music must have taken notice of all this new found Grammy attention surrounding Tony and decided to re-release his 1996 solo disc Violent Machine. Like most great metal work, this was only previously available through import from Japan. This is the first opportunity we‘ve had to review it.

Violent Machine is a collection of 10 tunes. They range from the same lyrical harmony lead guitar anthems that brought him attention in the 1980’s to more introspective, fusion influenced pieces. The album of course is still about Tony’s stunning guitar work; shredding that’s so painfully intricate that it leaves any guitar player who swore off metal in the early 90’s shaking in their flannel. His playing is more mature on this disc. Gone are the blinding fast neo-classical scales of the 80’s in favor of more melodic, straight ahead rock phrasings. One thing is for sure; Tony has evolved as a guitarist, musician and songwriter. He’s still using the same signature of major to minor key changes when writing his songs, but his consistent use of wah and at times fusion filled lead runs, elevates his playing past his 80’s contemporaries. The poppy rhythm and lead work on Track #3, "Circus De Soleil", sounds reminiscent of Steve Morse’s early 90’s solo work, while Track #6, "Shoe Shine Cyber Boy", flies by at Steve Vai’s "ala Shy Boy‘s" breakneck pace. He really shines when he lays back his guitar and focuses his composition skills on all the instruments in play. Such is the case on Track 7, "Carolina Blue". The mixture of ambient strings, pads, fluid bass, blustery solos, and light percussion really stands out as a whole and gives nods to his newfound jazz interest. He even finds time to show off his classical roots throwing in a trademark Chopin piece, "Etude #12 Opus 10".

Having so many influences showcased on one album may give the impression that Mac Alpine is all over the map, still trying to find a voice. On contrary, Tony’s confidence, delivery and dedication to the music make it all seem like a walk in the park. He’s also backed by some pretty competent musicians as well. The rhythm section, provided by Mike Terrana (drums) and Kevin Chown (bass), lets MacAlpine do his thing without ever having to worry about filling the song with repetitive guitar passages. The only downside is the final mix. Production on the album sounds a little sterile. I was hoping Lion Music would have taken an opportunity to freshen up the master but it did not. Nonetheless if you are guitar oriented and instrumental rock is your interest, you won’t be disappointed. This overlooked gem might be a nice addition to anyone who’s inspired by Tony’s guitar work or is just a fan of the genre. Release date May 14th.

Added: May 8th 2002
Reviewer: Grant Kikkert
Related Link: Lion Music
Hits: 4236
Language: english

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