Coincidences are a part of everyday life, and coincidences in the subset of life known as "SoT Reviewer" are no different, So it is that, just after reviewing a guitar focused album – Magna Carta Records' compilation Jam on Guitars - along comes another completely guitar –centered album for review. Not only that, but stylistically some may also put this down as a "jam" band album, and the mix of styles also makes Trading 8s prone to the same criticism that I levelled at Jam on Guitars: that it was unlikely that many listeners would enjoy all of the album.
So...why the change, why is Trading 8s getting a better review? First, an area where it scores over a compilation of various artists, such as the Jam on Guitars, is that the mix of styles is actually driven by the same artist, with a similar guitar-playing style or "feel", so that there is more unity to the music. Secondly, the mix is also more cleverly done, with a near equal ratio of alternating sung and instrumental pieces, making for an easier listen. Third, but not least, and dare I say it given the standard of players, the guitar playing on Trading 8s is more enjoyable! Fourth, for those really keen on guitar players, Carl's sleeve note annotations, describing each track, are more interesting. These (little?) factors add up over the course of a CD.
Carl Verheyen has been around the industry for a long time, playing for a number of bands, probably the most famous of which was Supertramp, during a short stint in the mid-1980s. However, in his own band is where someone with his talent is going to shine most brightly: the trio is composed of himself on guitar and vocals with Dave Marotta on bass and Walfredo Reyes Jr on drums.
The band trio is augmented on this album by some special guests; the first time that Carl has invited other guitarists onto an album since 1988! I have listed the guest players in italics in the "Tracks" section at the bottom of the review. The invitations go hand in hand with the album's concept: "Trading 8s" refers to the practice of alternating 8 bar phrases with another soloist whilst improvising.
The album starts off in a funky groove with the first couple of tracks; "Taxman" is that best of covers – the one where you can hear echoes of the original song, but the band make it into something new and improved. From the beginning you can immediately hear how crisp the production is on the album, how carefully it has been chosen to highlight the guitar sounds – it's very effective! "Taxman" features some super bass work from Marotta, it almost steals the track from the guitars!
We then move into a more conventional rock/pop arena for the next few numbers, "Higher Ground" with its acoustic and slide guitar sounds with female vocal has tones of country: all these work well. "New Year's Day" is a slow blues, which is ideal in this format.
"Henry's Farm" reminded me of great instrumental compositions from the past such as "Albatross" and "Samba pa ti", its Part 2 develops wonderfully with Carl trading phrases with Jim Cox on piano – it's a new texture within the album concept that, again, comes off excellently; one of those ways of mixing it about within a concept that maintains interest for the listener. "Country Girl" is, as the name implies, countrified and is sung, and the rock instrumental "Eastern Steppes" ends the album in fine fashion.
All the guitar playing on this album is honeyed lead guitar lines: this is a joy!
1) Highway 27 Joe Bonamassa
2) Taxman Scott Henderson
3) On Our Way Steve Morse
4) Constant as the Wind
5) Higher Ground Rick Vito
6) New Year's Day Robben Ford
7) Henry's Farm
8) Henry's Farm (Part 2) Jim Cox
9) Country Girl Albert Lee