Paul Gilbert: Iris North reviews Vibrato for Truth In Shredding

Artist: Paul Gilbert
Release Year: 2012
Title: Vibrato
Label: Music Theories Recordings
Reviewed By / 
Review Author: Iris North

2012's 'Vibrato' marks guitar virtuoso Paul Gilbert's 12th studio release as a solo artist. This progressive platter represents his latest effort to reflect on what he's assimilating from the universe of music. Clocking in at over an hour, this 11-song record, consisting of 8 studio and 3 live-in-concert tunes, ranges from mellow to blistering. Overall, the album is clear, crisp, and incredibly dynamic. Production is, as per this artist's usual, fantastic, with each instrument given plenty of aural depth and room to move.

Fiercely individualistic, Vibrato represents a bold step forward for someone known primarily for their 'fleet of finger' moves. Here Gilbert plays what he wants to play, not what his established fan-base of speed-freaks wants him to play. Further, with this release, he blurs a proverbial entertainment line between material he selects for his guitar clinics and concerts here, by deliberately including a clinic tune (the electric guitar reinterpretation of Dave Brubeck's 'Blue Rondo A La Turk') and 3 live covers. The album forges it's own exciting, new middle ground somewhere: it's not quite all jazz, or all progressive 'rock fusion', or even all insanity. 

Gilbert said, to Fireworks Magazine in 2006, "The whole universe opens up and you go 'There's no way I'm ever going to go all these places', so I really have to choose my favorite ones, maybe take a vacation over here to the jazz planet for a week to get some things there but then I want to come back to rock, which is my home." 'Vibrato' seems a souvenir from that vacation - the musical concepts he plays so jauntily are what he's digested to date. 

The album has a genuine, cohesive 'band' feel, versus an album composed solely for lead guitar to shine. On this disc, everyone has opportunities to strut. Influences are diverse and songs are fluid, sounding polished or well-composed. The original tunes feature a funky 1970's-infused groove, most reminiscent of Frank Zappa, but also calling forth images of Steely Dan and even Thin Lizzy (their song is called Thunder And Lightning... clever Paul invokes them via title with Rain And Thunder And Lightning).  

All of the studio tracks feature very heavily in their mix, the exemplary keyboard skills of Emi Gilbert, Paul's wife. To be able to hear her showcased this substantially, is fantastic. The songs are lent a vintage, jazz-infused vibe with the various keyboard tones. The texture with Emi's addition to the record is palpably different then if there were no keyboard parts. Each song remains balanced between the instruments. Bass guitar and keys balance out drums, guitar, and vocals, giving the band a full and rich sound. The guitar is fantastic overall - 'Atmosphere On The Moon' was voted as Guitarist Magazine's "solo of the year" for a reason! 

What really sets Vibrato apart from Gilbert's earlier releases is an extensive manipulation of 'time', or meter. This transformation is spearheaded by drummer Thomas Lang. Percussion is stellar. Lang shines here, incorporating all sorts of odd time in to what would usually be a straight-ahead rock and roll band. We're treated to poly-rhythm, syncopation, and all sorts of percussive madness - even a vibraslap! Lang raises the bar, so to speak. His work demands a top performance from all, and in the process elevates the entire band a few notches. 

Three tunes were recorded live in 2010 on the Fuzz Universe tour: Roundabout (Yes), I Want To Be Loved (the Muddy Waters version of the Willie Dixon song), and Go Down (AC/DC). There's an unaccompanied guitar solo just after I Want To Be Loved, and that solo, to me, remains one of the highlights of the album. These songs capture the Gilbert and his band - in that incarnation consisting of Tony Spinner (guitar, vocals), Craig Martini (bass, vocals) and Jeff Bowders (drums) - at their most riveting and intense.

I'd have checked it out no matter what, because I'm a die-hard Gilbert fan. I quite enjoy the record. That said, I'm a 'rock and roll' fan, and find that I need a rare 'jazzy' mood to really appreciate this album's nuances, rather then note them as fleeting glimpses. Technically-minded musicians, as well as progressive rock, jazz, funk, and fusion fans, will adore this recommended album. With 'Vibrato', Gilbert's on to something new, incisive, and just plain good. The album's position at #47 on the Top 100 Heatseeker chart clearly shows that he remains a relevant, powerful musical force to learn from and enjoy.

Rating: 4.5/5

Track Listing:
Enemies (In Jail)
Rain and Thunder and Lightning
Put It on the Char
Bivalve Blues
Blue Rondo a la Turk
Atmosphere on the Moon
The Pronghorn
I Want To Be Loved
Go Down

(duration, chart position)
(the solo award is somewhere in there...)