Fire Wire

Larry Carlton

RCA Victor, 2005

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Play that funky music, Larry Carlton.  Somehow that just doesn’t sound right, but there it is.  The master of smooth jazz fusion has gone all funky on us -- or so suggests Carlton’s most recent studio outing, 2005’s energizingly-named Fire Wire

Carlton, one of a handful of former session players who’ve managed to carve out a niche as pure instrumentalists, writing and playing their own tunes with no apologies offered, is a guy with such instantly recognizable tone that it’s almost startling to realize how many different styles he’s covered in the course of his long career as a solo artist.  He’s done straight blues and Southern blues, easy listening / adult contemporary jazz, driving pop-rock with jazz shadings, acoustic fusion and electric fusion, and his natural style draws equally from rock, jazz and blues.  Still, his tone and phrasing are so immediately identifiable that whatever style he’s playing in, it always sounds like Larry Carlton – except on my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Fire Wire, it’s easily the funkiest Larry Carlton we’ve ever heard.

“Inkblot 11” is a driving opener with a stellar horn chart that really punches up the choruses, a chunky Tom Johnston- Doobie Brothers feel on the verses, and sharp, stinging solos.  “Double Cross” keeps the drive going with the rhythm section pushing all the way and a super-catchy chorus riff.   “Naked Truth” eases off the throttle momentarily for a sleepy-eyed, sentimental blues that Carlton dirties up with an uncharacteristically fuzzy tone that reminds a little of Tony Iommi trying to play a lyrical ballad.  Not sure Tony could pull it off, but Larry sure can.

“Surrender” is more standard Carlton fare, a little blues shuffle with some B-3 for flavoring and nimble, nip-and-tuck solos.  The segue is sharp, then, when Carlton rumbles into “Big Trouble,” whose Zeppelin-scale riff almost qualifies as parody, given the contrast between Jimmy Page’s  trademark sleazy tone and the fat and heavy and yet utterly clean pitch Carlton lays on you here.

On “Dirty Donna’s House Party” and “The Prince,” Carlton returns to the groove with a vengeance, with a full horn section and clavinet on the former and very Al Kooper-esque, New Orleans funk Hammond work from Jeff Babko on the latter.  And then there’s ”Sunrise.”  Is there such a genre as funky acoustic sleigh bell music?  Or is this cut truly the first of its kind?

The crystal-clean funk Carlton essays on closer “Mean Street” reminds of some of the less heralded album tracks from 1977’s Frampton Comes Alive like “Doobie Wah,” where Frampton would do that English blue-eyed funk  thing.  It sounded a little funny at first because it was so clean, but it sounded good, too, and it sounds good here, especially when Carlton puts some genuine sizzle into his soloing towards the end.

On Fire Wire, Larry Carlton digs deep and taps into the youthful drive that some of his recent albums have lacked.  For the most part they’ve been breezy listens that you enjoy, but that you don’t miss much once you move on because the music didn’t make much impact.  It does here, though -- it most certainly, funkily does.

Rating: A-

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© 2009 Jason Warburg 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 RCA Victor, and is used for informational purposes only.