Billy Sheehan

Favored Nations Records, 2001

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Over the course of the last 20 years, Billy Sheehan has proven himself to be one of the greatest living legends of the bass guitar. He constantly tops readers' polls, and has played in some of the most memorable rock bands of recent time, from touring with David Lee Roth to being one of the cornerstones of Mr. Big. Even Sheehan's first band, Talas, continues to draw new fans.

So it might seem odd that Sheehan would choose this time in his career to release Compression, his debut solo album. Yet it also seems like the right move - after all, Sheehan has helped to support so many other talented musicians that it's about time he stands in the spotlight.

With rare exceptions (which we'll go into shortly), Sheehan handles all of the chores on the album, including vocals, bass, drum programming and guitar. (Anyone who claims people who play bass can't handle the six-stringer obviously haven't heard Sheehan's playing; he's just as good on guitar as he is on bass.) Admittedly, one could understand if you were a little uncertain about such an undertaking; very few "one-man band" projects ever sound seamless.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Ah, but Sheehan is by no means wet behind the ears when it comes to sculpting an album, and Compression is filled with well-written, well-executed tracks which will keep the listener on their toes throughout the course of the disc. Sheehan draws on all sorts of musical influences (without, admirably, leaning too heavily on styles from bands he's played in) and weaves them together to create a challenging, yet interesting sonic sculpture.

Listen to songs like "Bleed Along The Way" and "Oblivion" and hear a nice balance of progressive and hard rock (topped with the drumming of Terry Bozzio - I knew there was a Zappa sound to these tracks as well!). See if you don't pick up a Jack Bruce/Felix Pappalardi influence on "Somethin's Gotta Give," both in the bass lines and in Sheehan's vocal. Tell me you don't get a King Crimson-like vibe on "Chameleon," featuring fellow virtuoso Steve Vai on guitar.

Compression is pleasing on every single level. I don't think anyone doubted that Sheehan could write good music; he's proven that for a long time. But he shows he's more than up to the task of handling all the instrumentation (with a little help from Simone Sello - who mostly handles samples, keyboards and drum programming - as well as the two guest appearances previously mentioned). If you had any lingering doubts about Sheehan the guitarist or Sheehan the lead vocalist, stop worrying, just sit back and enjoy.

The musical style changes aren't glaring, but they are noticeable, and some listeners might find it a little difficult to switch gears that quickly. Personally, I think they add additional spice to the album, and they kept me on my toes, even when I was listening to the disc for the third or fourth time. It's a little more work paying attention to the changes, but it's well worth it in the end.

One side note: while the closing track "Feed Your Head" is an outstanding way to wrap things up, the Japanese version of Compression, from which I was working, includes the bonus track "Wear Away The Stone". Why this one isn't also included on the American version, I don't know, 'cause it's just as good.

With Compression, Sheehan adds another layer of cement on his already legendary status in the rock world. While this album is absolutely enjoyable from start to finish, it gives people a few more reasons to look up to Sheehan as a musician. Bassists have idolized this guy for a long time; now, anyone who plays an instrument will be joining in those ranks.

Rating: A-

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© 2001 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Favored Nations Records, and is used for informational purposes only.