Red/Sony [Released 16.07.14]
Marty Walsh’s ‘The Total Plan’ does indeed sound like the complete package. While guitarist Walsh (Berklee School of Music, Supertramp, Kenny Rogers, Eddie Money etc) anchors the album with deep solos and imaginative melodic arrangements, each guest contributes significantly from the original germ of their individual ideas to a series of sparkling solos that ignite the fuse.
For an album that has been built globally round 28 musicians who contributed their basic tracks and solos by computer file rather than face to face recording, ‘The Total Plan’ has a surprisingly organic feel. More than that, it’s a triumph of Marty’s vision, pre planning, intuitive thought, synchronicity and above all feel.
Marty originally matched the songs with potential players – most of the songs were originally written with vocals in mind, but all ended up as instrumentals – to be completed as part of a de facto musical chain. Happily the material is strong enough to incorporate expansive solos that sound like an integral part of the songs and so bring spark and variety.
Marty’s unwaveringly focus is on melodies, as evidenced by his acoustic playing on the percussive ‘The Road’, which is full of delicate restraint and great example of letting an arrangement breathe, without the need to dominate the track.
Nothing sounds forced as the arrangements leave enough room for the soloist to bring something different to their respective piece.
Listen to James Raymond’s organ solo on the outro of ‘Feeling Free’, or the tightly wrapped funk of the self explanatory ‘Groove Mechanics’, on which pianist Michael Ruff hangs back until the groove has fully evolved and then leans into the arrangement with some chunky piano and organs lines that take the song up a notch.
Then there’s a couple of synth solo’s which might potentially sound dated, but Nick Manson’s uplifting spacey solo on ‘Like A Rock’ and Ian Walsh’s synth sweep on ‘Back Pages’ brings sonic variety, on a great example of less is more. Marty’s waves of sultry wah-wah guitar lines create an aural landscape that begs to be filled by a defining solo and Ian’s ascending synth solo obliges. Like most of the album as a whole, it’s all about the groove and feel, meaning that the album has an unexpected organic feel.
Arguably, Marty’s greatest talent lies in the fact he’s successfully managed to communicate what he wants from his players, most of whom get inside the songs rather than simply add predictable drop-ins
His own playing is fluid, effortless, sparkling and full of variety. The arrangements work superbly well. Paul Jefferson for example, brings muscular presence to ‘Fuel’ with his brusque sax solo that serves as a launch pad for Walsh’s cutting edge slide solo. Both soloists combine fleetingly, but thrillingly on a song on which no note is ever wasted, as Marty confirms he’s the king of tone, melodic phrasing and cool dynamics.
‘Coast To Coast’ for example, relies on a sparse arrangement predicted on an aching bass line, drifting piano, and Gary Herbig’s and Marty’s sax and guitar interplay.
‘The Duke’ was one of the two original pieces that he started out with, and it develops over funky organ part into alternating phrases from the guitarist and sax player Steve Alaniz.
Only ‘Now Is The Time’ comes close to a fusion led muzak, but Alanitz’s warm sax solo and Marty belated slide solo brings unexpected texture and tone. You’d expect nothing less from a guitarist for whom taste is everything. He revels in the substance of the songs, the various colours and musical directions that his guests offer him and the quality and feel of the solos that make each track and the album as a whole a joy to listen to. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
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Pete Feenstra celebrated his 300th show in October 2019. Pete heads up a five-hour blues rock marathon when “Tuesday is Bluesday” from 19:00 GMT. Listen out also for his interview-based Feature show on Sundays (20:00 GMT)
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