Joe Satriani ― one of the most dazzling guitar players to come down the pike in some time — surprised many when his second LP, “Surfing With the Alien,” spent over a year on the charts and went gold. The music world sat up and took notice since an instrumental album rarely achieves such success, particularly on an independent label. However, that was more than two years ago (last year’s live EP “Dreaming #11” notwithstanding). Just what would Satch have up his fretboard this time? The answer on “Flying in a Blue Dream” is singing.
Satriani casts his vocals over six of this disc’s 18 tracks, bearing mixed results. “Can’t Slow Down” is a pedestrian thash rocker, while “I Believe” is agonizingly bland and too long at nearly six minutes. But the funk slam of “Strange,” the ZZ Top-ish boogie of “Big Bad Moon” (the first single) and “Ride,” and the bluegrass-styled “The Phone Call” find the artist stretching the boundaries of his craft. The lyrics mostly convey a disillusioned, aloof attitude. Satriani’s voice may be somewhat thin and limited, but he seems to have a notion of how to circumvent his vocal shortcomings. It doesn’t hurt that every cut packs searing guitar solos.
The rest of this effort is instrumental, with the riff-laden “The Mystical Head Groove Thing” and the ballad “The Forgotten” generating the most interest. The snappy “One Big Rush” and “Back to Shall-Bal” are perfect for cruising down the open highway. Satriani noodles through several interludes to bridge tunes together, thereby creating an overall mood and flow to the project. Satriani, who wrote, produced and arranged the LP, plays nearly all the instruments, including banjo and harmonica. Is it another case of megalomania or is Satch finally realizing all his creative energies?
It is immaterial because this is one of the most satisfying releases of the year. The peaks far outdistance the valleys and with some 65 minutes’ worth of music, you can omit a couple of songs and still have an abundance of quality. What sets Satriani apart from the pack is the way he infuses rock stylings of the past with heavy metal elements of the present. With this tour de force, he has solidified his status as the consummate contemporary guitar hero.
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