Album review: GARY HOEY – Neon Highway Blues

Pete Feenstra chatted to Gary Hoey in March 2019 for Get Ready to ROCK! Radio playing tracks from the new album.

GARY HOEY – Neon Highway Blues

Provogue [Release date 15.03.19]

Gary Hoey has forged his own musical path since the early 90′s as a best selling instrumentalist, a respected shredder and a hard rock icon who has found his music played everywhere from film soundtracks to Christmas cards.

He’s also played with more A-team guitarists than you can throw a stick at, all of which goes a long way to explaining why this album feels as if he’s found a natural home for his blues influenced material

And while his last album ‘Dust & Bones’ was arguably one of his most accessible albums, the splendidly titled ‘Neon Highway Blues’ finds him dipping his toes into noir titled blues genre that is well suited to his ability to evoke an array of emotions with his guitar playing.

His focus here is on songwriting, meaningful solos and great band interplay on tight arrangements. He revels in playing with a handful of special guests who all leave their imprint on a diverse, but musically coherent album with a blues heart.

‘Neon Highway Blues’  is a mature album from a fluid guitarist who knows the value of a big tone and the power of dynamics, on a set of songs that flows from beginning to end.

He opens with the funky, harmony guitar riffs and tension build of  ’Under The Rug’, on which he trades licks with his sometime tour partner Eric Gales.

The two guitarists weave in and out of the track with elegant intensity to open the album with a musical statement of intent.

The following blues ‘Mercy Of Love’ finds him paired with Joss Smith on an imperious blues outing full of space, contrast and kick-ass licks.

‘Neon Highway Blues’ is a self produced album on which Hoey takes every opportunity to embellish it with intricate sonic detail. He doesn’t waste any notes on songs that emphasize plenty of contrast in both his guitar playing and the tracks as a whole.

Interestingly, one of his guests is his son Ian, who steps up to the plate on a muscular blues ‘Don’t Come Crying’, which is full of a big toned attack, counter-weighted by some mellifluous interplay.

The father and son team lean into the track as if they’ve been playing together for years. Their conversational style solos gently comes to rest on lovely finish that feels as if they’ve said all they need to.

Hoey Sr. switches to slide for an Elmore James style intro on ‘Your Kind of Love’, and he’s in his element on the beautifully crafted ‘Almost Heaven’. The latter is an acoustic into electric guitar-driven love song, full of subtle textures and a swelling melody that drips with emotion in the way that Hoey’s instrumentals often do.

He extends his tonal range on the heavier ‘I Felt Alive’ which crackles with venom, before he coolly switches to a contrasting mix of soaring slide and a clean toned attack leading to a drone style hook.

The refreshing thing about this album is the way Hoey uses blues as a catalyst for his own musical style. His material never panders to cliché and his guitar playing rises from the understated to the majestic.

Hoey would be the first to admit he’s not the world’s strongest vocalist. But when he teams up with special guest Lance Lopez on the rocker ‘Damned If I Do’, his vocal phasing makes up for any lack of range on an impressive power shuffle. It’s also the perfect vehicle for two juggernaut guitarists who generate enough spark to lift the album as a whole. Lopez is an edgy toned presence alongside Hoey’s imagery based tone as the duo rock out to the max.

‘Neon Highway Blues’ feels like a musical journey with interesting pit stops, including the buzz toned, riff driven ‘Living The High Life’ which has a southern rock sounding stuttering rhythm track.

Everything flows and leads naturally to the closing title track, which is a twangy Hawaiian guitar sounding instrumental with a Santo and Johnny ‘Sleepwalk’ feel.

It’s the perfect bookend to an album that constantly searches for new musical expression and finishes with the cinematic feel of the album title.

‘Neon Highway Blues’ is a blues inflected musical journey which gives Hoey enough creative avenues to strike a balance between his own musical vision and what the market demands.

He rocks hard and relishes the opportunity to lock horns with some well chosen guests and let’s his guitar do his talking for him.

‘Neon Highway Blues’ is an aptly titled album that mirrors Gary Hoey’s ability to evoke imagery and emotion with his signature guitar playing. ****

Review by Pete Feenstra

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David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 14 March 2021 and includes the Top 10 albums at for that week.

UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 ( BST, GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 23 March 2021.

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