JASON BECKER - "THE RASPBERRY JAMS" (SHRAPNEL)
Jason Becker, talented guitar prodigy felled (for the moment) by ALS (a.k.a. Lou Gehrig's disease), has collected two dozen various "demos, songs and ideas on guitar" and released them on Shrapnel Records as "The Raspberry Jams". Like the subtitle says ("a collection of demos, songs and ideas on guitar"), what we have here is a miscellany of stuff recorded over several years, stored on tape somewhere, and later put on CD. The quality isn't quite commercial, therefore, but that's not what's important.
It's difficult to review this CD because it is so diverse. Not only have the tracks been recorded over a time span of about five years, but they vary from half-minute ideas to 4+ minute complete songs. The first category has tracks like "Amma" (based on a theme by Berlioz, which could have been called "Air Pt. II"), "Amarnath" (a really frantic track), "Throat Hole" (which sounds pretty low-quality, I guess because of master tape problems), the aptly titled "Too Fast, No Good For You!" (which is pants-droppingly fast, with just the right amount of distortion), "Crush" (acoustic, sensitive) and "Vocal Silliness" (which is indeed very silly). In the latter category you will find a variety of songs that could easily have made it onto a 'regular' album. The CD kicks off with "Becker-Ola", recorded around the time when Jason played in David Lee Roth's band and sounding like it could have been an instrumental on "A Little Ain't Enough". There's "Jasin Street", too, based on a Louis Armstrong tune, which is really jazzy. The tracks "If You Have to Shoot...Shoot, Don't Talk" and "Purple Chewable Fern" both could have come from his solo album "Perpetual Burn" if it weren't for the clinical, ever-present drum computer - they are pretty heavy and well done. "Dang Sea of Samsara" is a glamrock-like track with a lot of distortion. "Ghost to the Post" is a fast blues-type song. "Thousand Million Suns" is another cool track, clocking at over 5 minutes. Between these categories of 'just short snippets' and 'whole songs' there's a variety of other titles. There's "When You Wish Upon a Star", for example, which is played much in the way Jimi Hendrix usually did "The Star Spangled Banner"; "Grilled Peeps" in which Jason plays some stunning clean guitar; "Black Stallion Jam" which was written and played by Jason with Marty Friedman and which sounds like it should have been on Friedman's "Scenes"; "Urmila", a short song that is every bit as good as the things Jason did on "Perspective"; "Clean Solo", a great clean solo displaying awesome technique; "Shock Tea" which is reminiscent of his much later work even though it's recorded in 1987, back then Jason already had this gift to write beautiful and sad-sounding guitar tracks; "Angel Eyes" is a laid-back track that reminds me of Hendrix here and there; "Blood on the Traches" is a good track with bad sounding drum computer parts.
Concluding, after all this rambling and incoherence, this CD contains over an hour of musical insight into the musical background, talent and diversity of amazing guitarist Jason Becker, recorded between 1987 and 1992. The tracks with more than just guitar have a drum computer. Some of them are really short ("ideas"), some of them true songs. Some of the tracks use a lot of distortion, perhaps to camouflage the progression of ALS, I don't know. A very interesting offering for true fans, but I'm afraid it will be of almost zero interest to the general public. Nonetheless I hope this album sells well enough to warrant release of one or two more of such CDs which Jason has already said he's working on.
If you're appreciative of Jason Becker's music, or of interesting guitar antics:
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Written November 1999
Go to the Official Jason Becker Web Site
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