Vernon Reid & Masque
Other True Self
Favored Nations
2006
C



how angry is Vernon Reid, former Living Color guitarist? Hard to tell.




The rampaging, Basquiat-blues opener “Game Is Rigged” channels a volatile, bruised rage whose occasional inarticulacy only adds to its potency. Reid sounds pissed, and it is no stretch to hear the song as a chronicle of the racism of breached levees and body bags, particularly when Reid shifts into ironic-sounding 12 bar blues. “Game Is Rigged” indeed.

Reid’s guitar tone is thick enough to stand a spoon upright in, frequently overshadowing Hank Schroy’s equally muscular bass. Reid also doesn’t believe in any David Gilmour, one-note-at-a-time virtuosity. With the exception of the muted, reverb-drenched “Oxossi,” his solos, no less than his riffs, are brass knuckles stuffed with fistfuls of shiny notes, and only slightly more subtle.

And yet the results are surprisingly disappointing. Even putative slam-dunks, like a cover of Radiohead’s “The National Anthem” fail to fully satisfy. Instead of a full-bore wig-out, Reid gives an unexpectedly, frustratingly respectful reproduction that, absent Yorke’s glassy, panicked vocals, never bares teeth worthy of the original. Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence” fares better, burning like a bomb fuse under a church as organ alternately ignites and restrains Reid’s pyrotechnics.

Is it misguided to expect articulacy of instrumental music? Perhaps. But without the strength of specificity, Reid runs the risk virtuosity for its own sake, like Steve Vai with a better do. This is not a total loss. The meat-grinder jazz of “Whiteface,” with its relentless if vague struggling-against resembles the sort of classy interpretive dance piece where you have to read the liner notes to be reminded what, precisely, the choreographer had in mind. Flashier, but vaguer still, is “G,” on which you can almost hear the wind-machine being cranked up to wrestle with Reid’s long, long dreadlocks. “Wildlife” falls into a trap through inadequate focus, and becomes elevator music for postal workers, sparking without ever actually running the risk of exploding.

The low points of the album are all the more frustrating because of how good Reid can be. “Fusion” is nearly as bankrupt a genre as “rap-rock,” but Reid manages to breathe new life into the form. “Flatbush and Church Revisited” places Reid’s Clapton-on-coke soloing in an organ-driven reggae milieu, slowing the hectic pace of the album to a dubwise shuffle and doubling its impact. But the real highlight is “Prof. Bebey,” on which Reid unites the liquid tones of steel drums and the toothy tumbleweed sound of the late master Ali Farka Toure, melding Carribbean calypso and the Saharan blues into a heady multi-culti stew worthy of the titular Professor. The result relinquishes Reid’s customary rebellion in favor of a generous, even tender meeting of minds that sounds, finally, like some kind of resolution. I look forward to the album that finds Reid matching his fluency with his fury.


Reviewed by: Andrew Iliff
Reviewed on: 2006-05-19
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