Various - Instrumental Compilation 1: AXcavation

Year of Release: 2000
Label: Fossil Records
Catalog Number: n/a
Format: CD
Total Time: 51:24:00

I don't wanna say that every time I hear a steel stringed guitar I think of Craig Chaquico, but I've heard so few others play one with such distinctiveness that it appears that is the case. So it was with Alien Cowboys on this compilation from Fossil Records called AXcavation. "East West" is the name of the track, and it appears on their self-titled album from 1998. From the moment guitarist Ralph Perucci began, all I could think of was how much he sounded like Chaquico. (hear a sound clip at the Fossil Records site)

But, let's back up a bit, as there are 10 tracks of guitar based rock and metal that precedes Alien Cowboys. There are quite a few goodies here, though everything is good. There are few tracks here that shred, such as the blistering track from Jeffrey Ryan Smoots, "Intro," that opens the disk (from Wings Of Gold; the title track was included on Progressive Compilation 1: Unearthed). The ease with which Smoots moves up and down the fretboard is impressive. But there is a sense of the track heading somewhere, not just a string of rapidly played notes for the sake of it. Ditto that with Project Alacazar, though coming on the heels of Smoots, it does sound a bit similar, in that the tone of this guitarist is similar to Smoots. Shrieking notes stretching the scales. Towards the end of "TranceMission," with about a minute left, the track downshifts into something rather bluesy, and then seems to end with a quote that I recognize and can't put a name to. Smoots is back in his Inner Resonance guise with vocalist/keyboardist Peter Orullian and the track "Wanderlust" from Solar Voices. "'Wanderlust'" is the tour-de-force instrumental where Smoots really lets loose on the fretboard" is what I said about this track in my full review of the Solar Voices album, but Orullian isn't absent here with his keys and the two play with and off each other nicely.

Now, if you are at all familiar with Chaquico, you know that his underlying themes are very Western - some times the southwest, sometimes the northwest (that is, Arizona and New Mexico on the one hand, San Francisco and the Bay Area on the other; his home is the northwest). Well, there is a strong southwest feel to the first half minute of "Blackjack" by Charles Brown, but woah, folks, with a few short seconds this is more like southern rock - shades of Lynyrd Skynyrd and the like. The album is Mystics (1999).

Funky bass, driving keys (Hammond, methinks) and drums and tons of energy are contained Cerafim's "Stress" (Sides Of A Different Kind 1995)). It's a fun track, though The Franklin-Neumann Project's "Countdown" is even more so a fun track - a rollicking adventure with a very peppy beat. It's not just a countdown, folks, it's a beachfront barbecue party, where folks in floral print shirts and Panama hats, or bikinis, are grooving hundreds of yards from a towering rocket. It's like Fifth Element meets Armageddon with a grinning Bruce Willis getting plastered before the big launch.

Goocher get down and deep with "Gut." Bass is the lead instrument with boomy, dark lines, surrounded by brass utterances, guitar interjections, and a peppering of keyboards. "Gut" can be found on their 2000 release Germinate. There is a bit of fusiony feel here, and the song ends a bit otherworldly with fuzzed, digitized and smudged bass notes. Like grooving machinery.

But there are also tracks here that are more mid-tempo hard rock, rather than driving hard rock cum metal. One of my favorite tracks here is "Cruisin'" by Ecstasy In Numbers. This is a mid-tempo rocker that evokes long stretches of highway?the convertible top down on a sunny summer afternoon driving up around Santa Barbara, CA way. In some ways, the sound is a throwback to 70s or early 80s, but yet doesn't sound dated. This is a very laid-back track, all of which the title suggests. Ecstasy In Numbers aren't doing anything different and the track may not sound very original, but it is a pleasant and very well played tune. It's expressive and full of feeling and attention to detail. They paint the picture well. Another song that seems retro and modern simultaneously is Rod Laschanzky's "The Land Of Near And Far" from 2000's Martell Road. Laschanzky's guitar sings and the driving rhythm keeps everything moving forward, but you've probably heard it all before elsewhere in another time and place. It's hard rock and, like others here, well played. But you sort of find yourself hoping for them to blaze new trails.

"Winter Passage" starts a bit like Pat Benatar's "Fire and Ice" does, but then goes off in another direction. The simmering bass gives way to soaring guitar leads by Denis Taaffe. It's mid-tempo would seem at home in the 80's but for Taaffe's guitar, which has a more late 90's sound.

At the other extreme we get, "Le Passage," a brief acoustic guitar piece that sounds as if it has been lifted from Jim Croce's "Time In A Bottle"?all it's missing is Croce's voice. Nicely played though by Endangered Species, and is pulled from their 1999 album Colours Among The Blind. There is a brief passage here where the steel stringed guitar reminds me of?yes, Mr. Chaquico. This quite different from the track that appears on Unearthed.

The remaining two tracks are "Mars Direct" by Singularity and "Timewarp Finale" by Reindel. I've already reviewed the latter in my review of their album The Dominant Theme. There I said, "'Timewarp Finale' is the sound of musicians out of control, where it is one minute Marillion-esque (keyboard intro), one minute guitar rock, one minute a heavily percussive piece, to 80s Rush-like for the conclusion, in between stuff I didn't describe, all in a mere 3 minutes. Singularity had a track on the previously reviewed Unearthed compilation, and while there are still elements of Rush in their sound on "Mars Direct," is not quite as overt. For the first few measures, guitars are the dominant instrument, but when percussion kicks in, it is that which becomes the focus, though I don't think this was the intention. Cymbal crashes upstage the licks. The swirly keys are still here, and after a single vocal passage in which the title is sung -- your impression may differ, but I thought of Queen around the time of the Flash Gordon soundtrack. Keys take the lead from that point, pretty much. This song is interesting during it's darker sections, not sure how to describe them though?grinding, and gritty. There are Rush hints, as you will think of "YYZ" a bit.

All in all, Fossil records are showcasing a stable of strong bands, and I do encourage you to check them out.

Intro (Jeffrey Ryan Smoots) (2:13) / TranceMission (Project Alcazar) (4:46) / Wanderlust (Inner Resonance) (3:53) / Gut (Goocher) (5:04) / Cruisin' (Ecstasy In Numbers) (6:39) / Le Passage (Endangered Species) (1:58) / The Land Of Near And Far (Rod Laschanzky) (4:02) / Blackjack (Charles Brown) (2:17) / Stress (Cerafim) (2:56) / Countdown (The Franklin-Neumann Project) (2:47) / East West (Alien Cowboys) (3:50) / Winter Passage (Denis Taaffe) (4:24) / Mars Direct (Singularity) (3:36) / Timewarp Finale (Reindel) (2:59)



Genre: Other

Origin VA

Added: May 8th 2001
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 740
Language: english


[ Back to Reviews Index | Post Comment ]