Steady On [Release date 13.10.14]
‘Cherokee’ is multi instrumentalist Ron E Carter’s thirdalbum and it’s a natural progression from his fusion based debut album ‘Ad Idem’ and the acclaimed ‘Plays Hendrix’.
It’s essentially a rock/blues album with good songs and strong melodies, underpinned by a strong jamming sensibility that bubbles up beautifully on both the John McLaughlin influenced ‘Ascension’ and the self explanatory titled ‘March Jam’.
‘Cherokee’ is also truly a solo album, as Ron plays all the instruments, sings and produces everything on it. This is no mean feat for a partially sighted guitarist whose home studio wasn’t even big enough to house his drum kit.
Undeterred, he’s put together his most coherent work so far. He opens with the surprisingly poppy ‘The Way You Feel’ and revisits the same 60’s retro vibe on the melodic ‘Found My Way’, complete with its Jack Bruce style vocal, as Ron switches between shredding and coruscating solos.
‘Cherokee’ successfully strikes a balance between the self discipline of song writing and his inherent tendency to go out on a limb. He explores a funky groove on the buzz (or perhaps synth guitar) led ‘Take The Blues Away’, on which his passable vocal is supplemented by his expressive conversational guitar lines. The busy track suddenly drops-down on an bass and organ swoop before his piecing guitar notes bring the piece back to its funky root, as he solos with alacrity.
‘Show Your Hand’ is a brusque riff driven rocker on which the guitar almost drowns out the vocal, but he recovers to evoke Hendrix style abandon. ‘Silver Spoon’ is another busy track full of steely riffs, a hint of claustrophobia that Eric Gales fans might recognise, and a psychedelic guitar tone that evokes Tractor’s Steve Clayton. He fills the track with a tension resolving solo and then surprises us with an unexpected rhythmic fade out.
There’s also an unexpected switch to piano and drifting organ on the cool blues of ‘Movin On’. His vocals are relaxed to the point that you think he’s giving his material space to breathe, but he suddenly slips into a big guitar figure before letting the track gently drift into the fade.
The notably shorter ‘Is This Love’ emphasizes a gentle funky rhythm track and a heartfelt vocal on a mellifluous melody with potent bv’s.
In contrast, ‘Changes’ is a languid instrumental blues in a Roy Buchanan vein full of intensity and poise. It’s also one of several moments on the album when Ron unexpectedly slips into a higher gear with a blaze of hot licks and a psychedelic tinged tone, before a belated return to the thematic intro
Special guest Yvonne Howard brings a warm vocal presence on the bonus track ‘Wild’, which is curiously placed just past the album’s half way mark. Her vocal nicely offsets Ron’s primal synth guitar tone.
‘These Are The Times’ features the best melody on the album and benefits from a vocal that could be Squeeze or Caravan, before he drops in unison guitar lines and a clever mid-number rap which effectively glues together two parts of the same songs.
The song is also a lyrical mission statement about his own musical aspirations: “It’s my time now, these are the time for which I’ve been waiting”.
‘Cherokee’ is a unique guitar driven album full of contrasting ideas and plenty of variety reflected in the subtle shifts from pop to rocking blues, psychedelic rock and spontaneous jams of which ‘Ascension’s is a great example.
In the course of little under 8 minutes Ron manages to incorporate a variety of influences to his own end, ranging from John McLaughlin, Billy Cobham and Dave Brubeck, to Paul Butterfield and Robben Ford, on a piece that bursts with vitality and generates such an intensity at the half way point that you wonder where he will take it.
In fact there’s a subtle drop-down over brush stroked percussion, feather light cymbal work, gently voiced piano and intricate guitar lines that weaves it’s own magical spell.
The closing ‘March Jam’ has elements of Santana, Coltrane and McLaughlin, but it’s ultimately distinguished by Ron’s unique signature guitar tone, his ascending organ line and his intuitive spontaneity.
‘Cherokee’ has its flaws but it’s an album that at its best bottles lightning. The memorable moments of jammed out brilliance and lingering melodies make it worth seeking out. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
Pete Feenstra presents his Rock & Blues Show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Tuesday at 19:00 GMT, and “The Pete Feenstra Feature” on Sundays at 19:00
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