Tim Pierce

PRA Records, 1995

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


One of the challenges for a longtime session player making a solo album can be finding your voice when you’re suddenly aiming to serve your own songs rather than someone else’s—especially if you’re known more for subtle sophistication than aggressive flash. That’s certainly the case with Guitarland, the first and to date only solo outing of Tim Pierce’s nearly 40-year career as a heavily-in-demand session guitarist. It’s an album that brims with crisp, tasteful tunes that smolder along nicely while only rarely catching fire.

Opener “I Made It So” adopts a rather Mark Knopfler approach in some of its crisp, keening runs, albeit without any of the offsetting rough edges offered by Knopfler’s scruffy voice; it’s all silky lines and smooth changes until the last 90 seconds, when Pierce finally cuts loose a bit. Still, the reason why Pierce has been such a tremendously popular session guitarist—a hired gun for the likes of Michael Jackson, Tina Turner, Roger Waters, Celine Dion, Elton John, Christina Aguilera, Tracy Chapman and Phil Collins, among others—is obvious from the first note: his tone is stunningly clean and pure, and his runs are nimble and fluid. His playing is like honey for the ears. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

What honey needs to sustain your interest for 53 minutes, of course, is some spice, some added flavors, and they show up only intermittently here. The best numbers on Guitarland all shake Pierce out of his comfortable mid-tempo safe zone. On “English Channel,” unlikely guest Dweezil Zappa throws down a challenge with his zippy soloing that forces Pierce to up his game and bend a few notes in reply. “The Good Fight” features keyboardist and co-writer Bob Marlette, who co-produced this album with Pierce, on accordion, and its fresh color livens things up, giving this energetic number a bit of a BoDeans feel. Closer “Long Road Home” is among the highlights as well, a steady-on number featuring both mandolin accents and an especially fiery solo from Mr. Pierce.

There are other moments that work, such as the soaring licks featured on tunes like “Woman Be True” and the rangy title track, but more often you’re left with tunes that slip politely into the room and slip back out several minutes later having hardly made an impression. “Return to You” features a steady, jamming intense solo near the end, but takes three and a half rather forgettable minutes to build up to it. “One Desire” is a big, dreamy number whose soaring solos are undercut by its rather generic ’80s jazz-pop arrangement. And so on.

What we’re left in the end with is a serviceable, fundamentally inoffensive collection of mainstream pop-rock guitar instrumentals that’s elevated by the remarkably pure tone and consistently tasteful presentation of these songs. Guitarland is well-crafted from start to finish; all that’s really missing is a driving force behind it—a reason why. And that may help explain why there’s never been a follow-up to this album. Not every great session player is a solo artist in the making, and in the 23 years since this album came out, Tim Pierce has appeared on upwards of 600 albums by some of the biggest names in music. I think he knows what’s he’s doing.

Rating: B

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