11 April 2009

Surfing with the Alien

I’m really bad at keeping up with music. I’ve been making an effort to regularly buy albums, but it hasn’t really helped since I seem to mostly be buying digital version of my old cassette tape collection.

One such is Joe “Satch” Satriani’s 1987 Surfing with the Alien. Of course, I didn’t know when I bought the CD at Half Price Books last June that in 2007 he’d released an expanded 20th anniversary edition.

As I recall, Joe came to fame as a former guitar teacher of Steve Vai’s after Steve had come to fame playing with David Lee Roth when Diamond Dave left Van Halen. Of course, “fame” here means that if you’re a guitar player you have probably heard of them.

Here’s my two degrees of separation: One of my guitar teachers, Danny Blitz, once jammed with Joe. During that time when Joe was known only as “Steve Vai’s guitar teacher”.

Joe has built an impressive career on electric guitar instrumentals. He’s only recently joined a “regular band”, Chickenfoot.

Anyway, back to 1987: Alien, Joe’s second album, reached 29 on The Billboard 200 at a time when rock instrumentals hadn’t charted in years or were heard on the radio much.

There’s no doubt that Joe has mad guitar skillz, but the things I love about this album aren’t so much the flashy tricks. “Always with me, always with you” is a melodic ballad in which the few bursts of shredding or whammy bar squeals or right-hand tapping are used only in service to the song. That’s probably my favorite track. “Midnight” explores two-handed tapping but not for flash. Overall, besides the flashy, rocking title track and “Satch Boogie” hits, there’s just a really nice mix of pieces here that cover a lot of territory.

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