Other True Self
Favored Nations, 2006
REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/12/2006
I'm beginning to think Steve Vai's record label can do no wrong. Favored Nations, in addition to putting out Vai's excellent guitar-rock discs, has released offerings from jazz guitarist Mimi Fox, session whiz Andy Timmons and now this, a new solo offering from former Living Colour axeman Vernon Reid.
Granted, it takes a bit of patience to understand Reid, but the results often are worth it. What makes Other True Self different from most solo guitar records of the Satriani-Vai school is that Reid doesn't create songs to showcase his solos or explore the typical blues and rock formats. His decidedly skewed sensibilities lead him to explore reggae and African styles, create truly bizarre yet still conventional instrumentals and select two rather odd covers.
This is the only release in 2006 that will open with a tune in the classic Living Colour vein, "Game Is Rigged," move on into a kinetic cover of Radiohead's "National Anthem" and then veer into a six-minute reggae anthem, "Flatbush And Church Revisited," which puts all sorts of odd guitar effects over the same repetitive beat.
"Aferika" rides a wicked groove that manages to be four musical styles all at once, and it would have been nice to hear more of that and less of things like the cover of Depeche Mode's "Enjoy The Silence," simply because there is no reason for it, sort of like the Goo Goo Dolls' cover of "Give A Little Bit." Reid doesn't even play the cover straight, throwing in annoying warp effects at random times, but his guitar solos playing the main chorus are interesting at best.
What's missing here, besides a singer, is the fresh sound that Reid brought to Living Colour some 15 years ago, the sound of a metal band that could do anything and often did, the sound that made that band's first two albums latent classics. The experimentation here almost seems forced, but it's forgivable not only because Reid hits the mark more often than not -- witness the New Age-meets-African chill of "Oxossi" -- but because few musicians in 2006 have the guts to make music like this.
I swear David Gilmour must have stopped by to lend a hand to "G," which sounds like David Sanborn-meets-Wish You Were Here and is perhaps the most prog-rock cut here. "Wildlife" is the best fusion of jazz and rock since Steely Dan's early albums, while its cousin "Overcoming" is an average follow-up.
I could have done without the randomness of "Kizzy," but as soon as the drums of "Mind of My Mind" kicked in, I was hooked. In four minutes, I heard reggae, heavy metal, jazz, soul and funk -- it's the climax of the album, with the cute folky closer "Prof. Bebey" a charming aside to end the disc on a positive note.
Reid apparently does not know his true self, as he pays homage to pretty much every style of black music in the last 70 years, but if I had to guess I'd say his true musical self is a combination that includes healthy love for all those styles, mixed with an eclectic experimental spirit and an off-kilter ear for riffs and solos. He's not for everyone, but for those who like a little world music and jazz with their metal, look no further.