Album review: PAUL GILBERT – Stone Pushing Uphill Man

Paul Gilbert - Stone Pushing Uphill Man

Music Theories Recordings  [Released 15.09.14]

Former Racer X and Mr. Big Guitarist Paul Gilbert has always had a refreshing and thoughtful approach to his instrumental work. On the Sisyphusian concept of ‘Stone Pushing Uphill Man’ his 13th solo album, he replaces the vocal lines of several cover songs with an expressive guitar playing full of different tones, sonic variety and an inherent ability to get inside a melody.

Not for him a conveyor belt of relentless shredding, but rather a meaningful project on which he combines carefully chosen covers with a specific aim. He also adds three self penned songs on which he transposes imagined vocal phrasing to his guitar via an intuitive technical brilliance offset by an emotive pull.

In short he’s achieved what so many instrumentalists fail to do, which is to initially engage us and then maintain our interest through musical variety, melodic exploration, sparkling solos, an array of tone colours and original arrangements.

Look no further than the glistening version of Sting’s ‘Murder By Numbers’ on which he combines double tracked guitars – a soaring attack with a shredded resolution – before slipping back into the melody over the coolest rhythm track.

It’s the kind of elevating journey that he explains thus: ‘Stone Pushing Uphill Man is based around the Greek myth of Sisyphus, who spent every day rolling a heavy stone up a mountain, only to have to roll back down once he reached the top’.  It’s a repetitive task he clearly enjoys as long as there is an end goal.  Metaphorically speaking, the stone could be his guitar, this album or music as a whole.

He’s never been happy with song writing and this album meets his problem half way. He searches out emotion through guitar replicated vocal lines while contributing three songs of his own, of which ‘Shock Absorber’ is the best.

The closing title track provides the only vocal on a bluesy, gospel style acoustic intro. Naturally enough, it explodes into a raucous rock (no pun intended) arrangement on a successful conclusion to his quest.

He transforms Loverboy’s  ‘Working For The Weekend’ into a sparkling instrumental with incendiary soloing, double harmony lines and waves of shredding over Mike Portnoy’s powerhouse drumming, while on Aerosmith’s ‘Back In The Saddle’ he sculpts startling whammy bar inflected guitar lines that jump out at you, on a perfect example of the guitar replacing a brusque vocal.

Paul Gilbert is the ‘Stone Pushing Uphill Man’, a guitarist in search of a meaningful musical goal to match his exciting abilities. Listen to the staccato, locked in brilliance of James Brown’s ‘I Got The Feelin’, to hear a guitarist thrillingly hitting base as he shreds intensely over a tightly wrapped funk arrangement held together by muscular drummer Kenny Aronoff.

The funky track also acts a foil for Elton John’s MOR ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’. Paul’s guitar perfectly mirrors the vocal line, and traces the melody through harmony guitars, an explosive shred and a bluesy outro with a little more edge.

His shriller tone on the cover of The Beatles’ ‘Why Don’t We Do It In The Road’ sounds like mid-70’s Jeff Beck. The increasingly busy guitar line replicates McCartney’s original phrasing, which starts gently but becomes more raucous, while Gilbert’s sinewy playing on the self penned ‘Shock Absorber’ is a another great example of his conversational style of guitar playing.

He transforms Eric Carmen’s catchy pop song ‘My Girl’ into an uplifting melody with chiming notes over extravagant drum rolls and brings a meditative feel to k.d lang’s ‘Wash Me Clean’, on an example of his Sisyphusian introspection via a Peter Green influenced deep emotive tone.

‘Stone Pushing Uphill Man’ is a fine album by a stellar guitarist who is constantly in search of a challenge.  You could argue that he might have chosen more interesting covers, but once he lets his guitar playing do his talking for him, he speaks with an inner voice that might have made Sisyphus himself smile.  ****

Review by Pete Feenstra

Pete Feenstra presents his Rock & Blues Show every Tuesday at 19:00 on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio


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