VARIOUS ARTISTS - "WARM IN THE WILDERNESS, A TRIBUTE TO JASON BECKER" (LION MUSIC)
Jason Becker just plain rules, man, that's all I can say. In 1988 I discovered "Perpetual Burn" and he's been one of my favourite guitar players ever since. Maybe my absolute favourite, in fact. And if you know what befell him, ALS Lou Gehrig's Syndrome, and if you know how he's fighting it, you cannot do anything but respect him. If there's anyone around who shows you how incredibly strong the mind can be, it's him.
Thoughts like these must have been in the heads of the people who organised this tribute, as well as in those who contributed to it. The result is a lovingly produced double CD filled with a smorgasbord of Jason Becker related tunes.
The songs can be grouped in three: David Lee Roth (from "A Little Ain't Enough", the album Jason played on), Cacophony (the band Jason was in with Marty Friedman) and Jason Becker solo (from "Perpetual Burn" and "Perspective" as well as "Raspberry Jams"). I personally think the ones in the first group don't really fit on the album. Jason's playing on the originals was already pretty much influenced by the onset of ALS and he didn't contribute much in the way of composing. The glam rock kind of tracks on this tribute are the David Lee Roth covers ("A Little Ain't Enough", "Dogtown Shuffle", "Hammerhead Shark", "Baby's On Fire", "Sensible Shoes", "It's Showtime", "Drop in the Bucket" and "Tell the Truth"). Usually the singers are not too good. Having said that, "Baby's on Fire" is pretty good, "Sensible Shoes" gets an extra dimension because the vocal lines are done on guitar (Jeff Scheetz), "It's Showtime" is good as well, "Drop in the Bucket" is cool (the original was partly composed by Jason) and "Tell the Truth" is OK as well (good guitar work by Lars Eric Mattsson and Alex Masi but horrible exaggerated vocals by Robin McAuley).
The little gems on this album can be found in the remaining tracks. Incidentally, these are also the tracks that tend to demand most in the way of musical talent, because there's some seriously excellent guitar work on the originals. Worth noting are the following tracks:
"Altitudes" with Torben Enevoldsen on guitar. Very good, innovatively re-arranged to sound quite different. One of the best tracks on the entire album, period.
"Eleven Blue Egyptians" with Robert Marcello on guitar. I had expected this to be way too difficult for such a relatively unknown guitar hero to attempt, but especially guitar-wise it's rather good.
"A Jam for Jason" is a new composition, good throughout, with guitar work by Jeff Kollman, Vinnie Moore, Chris Poland, Jeff Watson and Steve Morse. They take turns with their solos, and it's good. Especially Vinnie Moore lays down some ace acoustic guitar.
"Higher" is actually better than the original, which I thought was just a little bit too experimental. It's very melancholic (like the original), and quite beautiful.
"Becker Ola" is a very interesting interpretation of the original, with Carina Alfie and Linda McDonald of Phantom Blue. It's a good track, with some scratching thrown in to good accord.
"Go Off" is another one of those tracks that I considered near impossible to cover properly, but Evolution pull it off very well, with amazing guitar work, pretty faithful to the original. Pity the drums are computer-generated, which is easy to hear.
"Jasin Street" is, like the original, an undistorted jazzy song that gets heavier near the end. OK.
"If you Have to Shoot" has some excellent guitar work by Tony Baena.
"ESP" has a very bad singer (Arnoud "Nefesh" Pecoul) but is saved by its instrumental merit. This track features some nice acoustic touches here and there.
"Air" is a beautifully executed song with solo guitar and the second guitar of the original played on a piano. Nice effect, good track.
"Opus Pocus", some will say, is too much like the original, the musician (Chris Steberl) didn't impress enough of his own style on it. But with "Opus Pocus" that's quite a feat to pull off. Ace track, I reckon.
"Mandy's Little Throbbing Heart" and "Blue" are pretty good, nothing much to be said there.
"Becker's Bolero" has really weird sounding drums but is otherwise OK.
"Lydia's House" is a composition by Mattias Eklund, a very unusual track with good guitar work and, unfortunately, a drum computer. At times very Vai-like.
"Forcefield" is another new composition, this time by Rob Johnson. Though there's plenty of slower guitar work on this one, there's also the typical Rob Johnson guitar insanity going on. A pretty heavy track.
"Urmila" is another melancholic track, played by Mistheria with Rick Renstrom on guitar. It's recorded live. Good stuff.
"Black Stallion Jam" is played by Marty Friedman, and I think it's really cool (and logical) that he plays on this record as well. In fact he lends this track a bit of a "Scenes" touch. Cool.
"Hawking" is a track written by Todd Rundgren, performed by Paul Gilbert mostly. Unfortunately he also sings on it, which, um...let's just say I'd rather hear him play the guitar. This track isn't very strong, goes on for over 7 minutes, and has a good but short guitar solo in it. Not the best one on here.
"Primal" is a great track from "Perspective", done capably by Jens Johansson, known normally only to play drums. He also does the keyboards, bass and guitar, and does so very well. A haunting track.
"Rain" is beautiful, originally, but made a bit happier and more up-tempo in this version by Eric Zimmermann. Not bad, actually, but it loses the awesome extra dimension the original has.
"Concerto" is amazing, guitar-wise, though the drums are programmed, so-so and tame-sounding. Very interesting as a whole.
"Outro Jam" is another original song, good stuff, this time featuring the guitar talents of Torben Enevoldsen, James Byrd, Patrick Rondat, Ron Thal, Mike Chlasciak, Sami Asp and Lars Eric Mattsson.
Jason Becker's music is difficult to listen to for me personally. I am glad "Perspective" is represented capably on this album, but I am also glad they didn't do "End of the Beginning" or "Life and Death", because those two tracks are simply so laden with emotions that I cannot listen to them without breaking down, sobbing incontrollably. Hey, I guess I am just a big softie. Jason has a very special place in my heart, I can't help it. In a way it's beautiful that music can move you to tears, but it's too bad it means I can't actually listen to those tracks any more (especially now, read the Finntroll review to know why).
Please go buy this album. The profits will be donated to Jason's family to help fight ALS and maybe get him to recover.
The following bit was added after buying the Japanese import version of the album (a 3CD version, with almost 45 minutes of extra music):
If you're willing to shell out the US$35+ dollars for the 3CD version, it's quite worth it. Here's a track-by-track rundown...
"Speed Metal Symphony" by Slav Simanic. I had not imagined it possible for anyone to play this, but it's quite an amazing job that he does. The drums (drum computer, alas) and bass are rather thin-sounding and there's a bit too much distort on the guitar, but there's some really good stuff going on here. Some of the really intricate parts seem a bit slower than the original. When you listened to Cacophony the music seemed effortless, now it sounds like you can see Slav sweating his arse off :-)
"Temple of the Absurd" by Terry Syrek starts off acoustic, really radically re-arranged. There's some excellent guitar work here, again. Too bad that this track, too, uses a drum computer. It makes everything sound so much more sterile. Makes you miss Atma Anur, though there's some interesting use of congas near the end.
"Jewel" by Scott Hughes, originally a track from Marty Friedman's "Dragon's Kiss" that Jason co-wrote, is given a very sad guitar tone. Quite amazing and touching. Again use is made of a drum computer, but this time it's rather funky. Better.
"Perpetual Burn" by Stephen Ross. Finally, a band with a real drummer; it makes the music leap at you so much more. Stephen does an amazing job, almost equal to what Jason could have done. Excellent track.
"End of the Beginning" (ooops!) by Joseph Anastacio Glean's Valediction. Perhaps because it's a bit happier than the version on "Perspective", I can actually keep a check on myself when listening to this. Joseph is a keyboard player, so all the original interesting guitar bits are done on keyboards here. A very good track despite it being a bit too happy for its subject matter. The original guitar climax is simplified.
"It's Showtime" is another track more befitting a David Lee Roth tribute. Done by the Byron Nemeth Project. It's OK, with the vocals done on solo guitar. A nice solo by Rico Mancini near the end, though it nearly drowns in distortion.
"Dang Sea of Samsara" by Tony Gamble is the least track on the bonus disc. The original song wasn't that brilliant to start with, but Tony plays with too much distort, and with a sterile-sounding drum computer.
Sultan of String's version of "Dwellar in the Cellar", nicely re-arranged, is a worthy close. Some really sensitive guitar work. Good stuff.
Click here to buy or check out the regular version
Click here to buy or check out the Japanese import 3CD version
Written August 2001 / Japanese bonus disc review added February 2002
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