Avabella Productions, 2007
REVIEW BY: Ben McVicker
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/13/2008
Another release documenting the formative years of the only virtuoso guitarist to wear a KFC bucket on his head during performances, Acoustic Shards is a great companion-piece to the recent Young Buckethead DVDs. A disc of solo improvisations on acoustic guitar from July 1991, it’s a striking collection, as the bulk of the material is radically different from Buckethead’s work with The Deli Creeps.
A far cry from the Creeps’ freakish riff-rock and shredding solos, Acoustic Shards exhibits Buckethead’s skill for creating atmospheric, moody compositions: no overdubs, no samples, just a young guitarist armed with a Guild D-40C acoustic and a bundle of ideas. While there are plenty of speedy picking and fingertapped leads to be found, the strongest points are the softer numbers.
The disc kicks off with early versions of “For Mom” (which eventually appeared on 1998’s Colma) and “Who Me?,” from 1999’s Monsters and Robots, two songs that I’ve long considered to be exemplary of Buckethead’s softer playing and each featuring some intricate picking and chordal work. Both songs are still a bit rough around the edges and not fully developed, making them an interesting listen for longtime fans. The casual recording atmosphere is a funny contrast to Buckethead’s studio work. There’s the occasional wrong note, a lot more off-the-cuff runs, and the raw production allows you to hear the chime of open strings and fret-buzz throughout.
The two openers are the most complete ideas on here; the rest of the tracks are less developed, and sometimes fall into what sound more like routine exercises for tapping or scales. That being said, there are still plenty of great spots to be found: “Little Gracie” and “Ed’s Rhapsody/Midnight Dance/Jars” both feature some clean, meticulous picking and peaceful phrases, and either could potentially be the groundwork for a song. “Ganryu’s
A few tracks are loose and meandering: “Ghosts Upstairs,” for example, begins with a great, eerie progression before turning into a tapping practice run 30 seconds in. A minor highlight for fans is hearing an early run-through of the funk section that has since become a signature piece of Bucket’s live soloing about two minutes in. Those with a keen ear will find a number of phrases that have since become trademark licks in Buckethead’s catalogue on Acoustic Shards. “Cubes, Chunks, and Crumbles,” features a hidden piece of riffage from his time with the Deli Creeps about three minutes in, while “Thugs” has a similar riff to “Jowles” (off Monsters and Robots) just before the five minute mark. “Stay Out Of The Shed” sees the young Buckethead run through an array of chicken pickin’ sounds, not unlike what he throws into his live routine from time to time. The somber and relaxing “Longing,” meanwhile, foreshadows the moody, atmospheric style that Buckethead would perfect with 2002’s Electric Tears.
While Acoustic Shards at times gets lost in the dizzying sea of notes and sometimes unstructured nature of some tracks, such as the tapping tour-de-force “Spirals,” this is hardly fair criticism. After all, this is an improv session that showcases a young guitarist fleshing out and exploring new ideas, not refining them. This album is not only a great sample of Buckethead’s early playing, but a fascinating glimpse of the creative process in solo guitar music.