Music festivals can be special when they bring together artists in once-in-a-lifetime performances that leave an audience bewildered by the talent on stage. The latest release from Stony Plain Records captures one of those unique performances with “Guitar Heroes,” a live recording that teams lauded guitarists James Burton, Albert Lee, Amos Garrett and David Wilcox at the Vancouver Island MusicFest on July 12, 2013.
These guitarists are heavyweights in the blues and rockabilly circles and each has laid their stamp on the burgeoning sound of early rock and roll. Burton played in Dale Dawkins’ band and is the man behind the classic “Susie Q” lick, as well as a member of Elvis Presley’s band and Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris’ Hot Band. Lee was part of the movement of British bluesman who brought blues back to white America in the 1960s and has played with everyone from Eric Clapton to the Everly Brothers. Garrett is a highly regarded player in the music business and is a master in blues, country and jazz guitar and has rubbed shoulders with Paul Butterfield and has toured with his own jazz band. Wilcox has been a gem in his native Canada for years and has influenced a generation of Canadian guitarists with his inquisitive playing. So how does all this talent translate on stage?
Well, it’s safe to say, it sounds good. These guys are masters of their craft and the playing is impeccable. Each one of them brings a slightly different style and approach to the music, from Wilcox’s distilled slide work to Lee’s smooth blues. Burton’s signature “Susie Q” is a tight strut with Burton’s “chickin’ pickin” style at the forefront and Amos delivers an impassioned stroll along the guitar in the classic “Sleep Walk” in a blissful tone. The smooth jazzy-blues of “Comin’ Home Baby” is a great soundscape for Wilcox to lay down some warm slide that is modest yet slick, like a sharp blue blazer. “Only The Young” is simple jaunt along a slowly flowing brook, languid enough to allow one to step back and admire all the different styles of the guitarists as they come in for their solos, especially the luminescent tone of Lee’s guitar.
While the guitar playing is exemplary on “Guitar Heroes,” the album can feel at times like four continuous guitar solos. All the music is basically set up to let the guitar players shine in their own right rather than a collaborative project. These guys were thrown together like an all star team and asked to play a game with one day of practice. Sure there is going to be great playing because of the amount of talent, but they don’t have time to figure out how to play together and create something unique. In the liner notes for the album it lists the order of guitar solos in each song, a helpful and interesting bit of information, but a testament to how much soloing was going on instead of collaboration.
“Guitar Heroes” is a nice nugget of music for the average guitar aficionado. It showcases some incredible playing and some of the more influential guitarists in music. Lee, Burton, Wilcox and Amos will probably never be on stage together again in that capacity but we’ll always have record of how their music danced together on the Vancouver shore in 2013.
- “Guitar Heroes”
Making History: James Burton, Albert Lee, Amos Garrett and David Wilcox at the Vancouver Island MusicFest on July 12, 2013
Label: Stony Plain Records
Release: May 5, 2014
Notable Tracks: “Comin’ Home Baby,” “Sleep Walk”