CD Review – Lee Ritenour – 6 String Theory

Disclosure: I got this CD for free

When I first posted about the release of this CD I was kind of excited about the possibilities of such an album – the possibilities that it would be a meeting of minds, hearts, fingers – a meeting of guitar players. There was also the other possibility that it would, excuse me, suck big style, with Ritenour shredding jazz fusion licks across a bunch of tracks in odd time signatures and not allowing the other players to get a note or a riff in sideways. I needn’t have worried – Ritenour features on just over half of these tracks and his contributions are, as expected, as tasteful and meaningful as everybody else’s.

If you don’t want to read the rest of this review, let me make this plain:

If you are a fan of guitar music, of whatever style, you should at least listen to this album – there’s something here for everybody. More importantly, if you are a guitar player with an open mind you should go out and buy this album. For me, there is so much “stuff” on this album that is not only enjoyable to listen to again and again, but also inspirational to me as a guitar player.

The album opens with a jazz fusion piece featuring Lee with John Scofield. On first listening I thought, “Ah, here is the first of many jazz fusion tracks.” And it certainly is a good opener – I’ve always liked Scofield – I know his work much more than I do Ritenour’s, and this track features several licks that are recognisably Scofield. I even managed, after listening to the album several times, to be able to whistle along with one of Scofield’s solos! (Sad, I know!)

But the second track begins to show the wide variety of styles of music and guitar players that Ritenour has brought together for this project. Keb Mo’ & Taj Mahal partner up on the first of 3 blues tracks, “Am I Wrong?” As soon as I heard the loping beat and the tasteful slide refrain, I knew this was going to be a tasty track and one that would be featured on my Blues Show as soon as possible. (In fact, I featured the 3 blues tracks from the album on my show last Sunday.)

I’m not going to talk about every track in as much detail, but they do all deserve mention:
“L.P.(For Les Paul)” features Ritenour with jazz guitar Pat Martino and organist Joey DeFrancesco and is a fitting tribute to the jazz style of Les Paul’s playing – reminding us that as well as putting his name to one of the most iconic guitars in the world, he was a great guitar player too. Both guitar players play more runs than i will ever be able to manage, with chords that I don’t know the name of, and Defrancesco shows why he is top of the game in jazz keyboard circles.

“Give Me One Reason” is the second bluesy track (written by Tracy Chapman) and features Joe Bonamassa and Robert Cray,  in a tasty, groovy rendition of a song that I’ve heard once before by Junior Wells. Bonamassa’s playing is, as expected, very fine, with a tasteful solo before Cray’s vocals come in, followed by a typical Cray solo. The differences in styles and tones is obvious, but the liner notes make it clear on each track who is playing which part, and which channel they are panned to. This song too has already been played on the Blues Show.

“68” starts to rock things up a little, featuring Steve Lukather and Neal Schon trading licks on a mid-tempo, melodic instrumental. Not wanting to be left out, Slash weighs in on the fade out.

Lukather and Schon feature on the next track “In Your Dreams”, joined this time by Ritenour. This is a slower track, featuring precise whammy bar action – a skill I’ve never mastered. The guitar tones here, like everywhere else on the album, are wonderful and the liner notes detail which guitars and amps were used by which players.

The next two tracks feature George Benson – the first “My One And Only Love” solo, the second “Moon River” with Joey DeFranceso. George’s guitar playing might be overshadowed to some extent by his soul/jazz/pop vocal excursions, but believe me, he can play – as witnessed on these two tracks. He even had me whistling along with the melody of Moon River, whilst at the next verse having me whistle in delight at his jazz runs and chords.

The blues make a comeback on the next track “Why I Sing The Blues” which features Ritenour with B.B. King, Jonny Lang, Keb’ Mo’ and Vince Gill trading vocals and guitar licks. Very groovy.

The next track “Daddy Longlicks” features Joe Robinson (Winner of “Australia’s Got Talent”) on solo acoustic guitar. I’ve already tried to learn this 3 times – and given up every time!

“Shape Of My Heart” (yes, the Sting song) features Ritenour on nylon strung electric guitar, with Lukather on electric guitar and Andy McKee on his steel string acoustic. The thing I like most about this track is the tasteful accompaniment provided by whoever isn’t the featured soloist at any given time. Ritenour found McKee after following his son’s advice to go and check out guitar players on YouTube.

McKee’s own”Drifting” follows, (Yes, I’ve wondered at it it on YouTube too!) featuring Paulinha DeCosta on percussion and Jimmy Johnson on bass.

Mike Stern takes centre stage on the next track, Freeway Jam, a driving melodic instrumental which also features Tomayasu Hotei and Ritenour. This track reminded me to go and dig out my albums by Mike Stern – a wonderful player.

Britain’s marvellous Guthrie Govan is next up, with a wonderful take on his track “Fives” featuring the wonderful Taj Wilkenfield on bass and Vinnie Colaiuta on drums. Apparently during the recording of this track Joe Bonamassa was in the control room and wondered at Guthrie’s playing. “Man,” said Bonamassa to Guthrie, “I didn’t play that many notes all last year.” “Yes,” said Guthrie, “but you played the right ones.”

The album finishes with Shon Boublil (16 year old winner of Yamaha 6 String Theory Competition) and “Caprices” – a fitting relaxing end to a fantastic album.

“6 String Theory”? There’s plenty of that here, but much more importantly there’s lots of great playing.

In case you didn’t quite grasp it – I love this album, and so will you.

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