Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Lee Ritenour’s - 6 String Theory

"We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy!"
Garth Algar: "We’re scum!"
Wayne Campbell: "We suck!"
    - Wayne’s World (1992)

That is exactly how I feel after listening to Lee Ritenour’s  6 String Theory.  I have played guitar for thirty-nine years and I am in awe of the music and talent that Lee Ritenour has assembled on this album.  I can only dream about playing any the pieces on the album and, even if I learned the music, I can only dream of being able to perform them with such talent and precision.

Right off the bat Ritenour teams with progressive jazz guitar master John Scofield on Ritenour’s Lay It Down.  As if trading guitar licks with John Scofield is not enough, Harvey Mason is on the drums, Melvin Lee Davis plays the bass and Larry Goldings mans the organ. My fingers could never keep up. Then, the album gets better.

Ritenour accompanies Keb’ Mo’ and Taj Mahal as they perform “Am I Wrong,” a hot delta blues song which features an amazing swamp guitar tone topped off by Taj Mahal’s tasty harmonica and Keb Mo’s and Taj Mahal’s raw vocal power.  I attempt to recreate this guitar blues tone and fail.

Les Paul “L.P. (For Les Paul)” is an up-tempo tribute to Les Paul written by Ritenour.  A guitar duet between Ritenour and guitarist Pat Martino (Joey DeFrancesca on organ and Will Kennedy on drums) has dual leads so precise that I would need ice for my fingers before I could complete the first stanza.

Joe Bonamassa and Robert Cray show up on the fourth track to play a slow burn blues version of Tracy Chapman’s “Give Me One Reason.”  If I have one wish it is to play as well as Joe Bonamassa or Robert Cray.  Some wishes will never come true.

If these embarrassments to my guitar playing ego weren’t enough, Ritenour follows it up with with Steve Lukather, Neal Schon and Slash performing Lukather’s instrumental “68”?  Okay, now I can’t find the notes, the speed or the tone.  Great.  Then they throw it in my face again.  Lukather, Schon and Ritenour play a mellow Ritenour jazz piece called “In Your Dreams.” It seems to say to guitarists “you don’t have to play fast.  It is about feeling and tone.”  The question for me is how does a guitarist even attempt to measure up to this?

Ritenour provides an immediate answer with George Benson performing “My One And Only Love,” in a straight-ahead jazz style.  I could never play like Joe Pass.  This track makes it clear that I will also never play like George Benson.  (Sigh of resignation.)  As if one amazing George Benson guitar instrumental number is not enough Ritenour follows it with Benson swinging “Moon River.”  I can play “Moon River” but, uh, not like that. (Deeper sigh of resignation.)

Damn, the musicianship and music gets even better.  What have I done to deserve this?  B.B. King, Vince Gill, Keb’ Mo’, Jonny Lang and Ritenour together play an up-beat version of B.B.’s classic “Why I Sing The Blues.”  They vamp, and trade vocals and licks.    Can I live with this?  There’s only one King, Gill and Keb’ Mo’ got chops, and Lang and Ritenour are prodigies.  I’m scum.

I look at the next track - a song by some unknown named Joe Robinson that is called “Daddy Longlicks.”  I think, finally, a no-name. Maybe I can regain a bit of guitar player self-esteem.  Out of the speakers comes a flurry of fingerstyle guitar picking.  I check the CD liner notes and find out Ritenour discovered this 18 year old Australian fingerstyle guitar master.  HE IS 18 YEARS OLD!!!! My life is over.

To further my grief Ritenour plays with Lukather and Andy McKee an instrumental version of Sting’s “Shape Of My Heart.”  I faintly recall the name Andy McKee and Google it.  He is the amazing guitarist with the viral YouTube video in which he plays the guitar as a percussion instrument.  A second track of McKee and Ritenour follows called “Drifting” that was written by McKee. Unbelievable.  I have no idea how he does it.  I get more depressed. Anyone interested in buying a used guitar or two?

I so dreaded to hear what Ritenour would do next. He tortures me with the finest version of “Freeway Jam” since Jeff Beck’s  Blow By Blow album.  Here, Ritenour plays with jazz guitarist Mike Stern (who played with Miles Davis and the Brecker Brothers) and Tomayasu Hotei (one of the greatest Japanese rock guitarists alive, known in the US  for his film score in the movie “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” and the theme song to the film “Kill Bill” that also can be found on Playstation 2’s version of the game “Dance, Dance, Revolution SUPERNOVA,” called “Battle Without Honor Or Humanity”).  How much more of this can I take?

With great trepidation I let the next to last track spin.  It is by some guitarist named Guthrie Govan who wrote and performs the song “Fives.” It is fast. exacting, progressive rock guitar - as good as Yngwie Malmsteen.  I’m stiff. I can’t play that. My ears bleed.  Who is this guy “Govan?”  I look him up.  Oh, lord, best known for his work with the band Asia and is a former winner of “Guitarist of the Year” honors.  He also has his own shred band called Erotic Cakes. I am not worthy.

The final track makes me think I should adjust my attitude.  It is a classical piece, “Caprices. Op. 20. No. 2 and 7,” written by Luigi Legnani and performed impeccably by Shon Boublil.  I check him out.  Boublil is a 16 YEAR OLD Canadian who won an international guitar talent search put on by Yamaha, Berklee College of Music, Monster Cable, D’Addario and Concord Records.  He is 16 YEARS OLD! I suck.

- Old School
Buy here: 6 String Theory
6 String Theory [bonus tracks]
6 String Theory mp3


Matt the Nashville Guitar Lessons Guy said...

Goodness...sounds like an intimidating album!

Thanks for posting the videos to help the music you describe come alive.

Shawn said...

GREAT post. ya, you can't feel bad about those prodigies brah. They just practice all day... thats how most people became so good... just practicing and playing! You can, too! Neways, check out Joe Bonamassa's page for this riff in "Blue and Evil" - http://tiny.cc/vv8ik really fun lick.

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