A difference of opinion on “Guitar Heroes” LP

One album, two different opinions:

Guitar HeroesAn Album like “Guitar Heroes” (Stony Plain Records), which finds four renowned guitarists — Albert Lee, James Burton, Amos Garrett and David Wilcox — tackling a set of standards within a blues motif, isn’t the most promising proposition. Fortunately, though, my prejudicial instincts were easily overcome. While the familiarity factor weighs heavily here — covers of “Susie Q,” “That’s All Right (Mama)” and “Polk Salad Annie” are included among the 11-song set — the selections serve mainly as a launching pad for the band to jam. In that regard, “Guitar Heroes” shines.

Consequently, the fretwork is absolutely dazzling, the instrumental interplay is remarkable and every participant -— the rhythm section included— is mightily impressive. That’s especially apparent on songs such as “Country Boy,” “Susie Q” and “Flip, Flop & Fly,” each offering evidence of how well skills, savvy and synergy can find a perfect mesh. Through a succession of solos, each player showcases his own speed and virtuosity. It’s difficult to tell where one solo begins and another leaves off, but given that remarkable riffing, it equates to a genuine super summit. The fact that it was recorded live and without any overdubs only adds to its credence. If talent alone is a measure of merit — and by golly, it ought to be — then “Guitar Heroes” is a superb showcase indeed.

— Lee Zimmerman

Using the road band of Albert Lee (one of the four guitar heroes on parade here live at the 2013 Vancouver Island MusicFest), this is a surprisingly low-key affair considering the fire power.

Sure, rockabilly pioneer James Burton shines as he recreates the 1957 solo he took on “Susie Q” by Dale Hawkins, but other than Lee (longtime mainstay for Eric Clapton, Emmylou Harris, Everly Brothers, Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings, Rodney Crowell, 20 or so solo albums and thousands of sessions), none of ‘em can sing. They should’ve booked one big-time vocalist to make this the “Event Extraordinaire” it purports to be.

There are those who say Amos Garrett invented multiple string-bending. His hot licks have graced the music of Paul Butterfield, Doug Sahm, Bonnie Raitt, Jerry Garcia and dozens of others. That was him on Maria Muldaur’s 1973 “Midnight At The Oasis.” Here, he adds tasty fills on almost every track.

And David Wilcox is Canada’s premiere go-to guy and has been since the ‘70s — just don’t let him sing.

With familiar material like “That’s All Right (Mama),” “Flip, Flop and Fly,” “Polk Salad Annie” and eight others, the four “Heroes” add spice but it’s all too polite. They should have challenged each other and egged each other on like the “cutting contests” jazzers used to have in the 1940s.

As is, I’m sure it was a great day in the sun, but it makes for a less-than-stellar CD experience.   

— Mike Greenblatt

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