Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Scott McKeon - New Morning

British guitarist Scott McKeon has played with a host of big names both in the studio and on the road.  But when the list of his credits is rolled out, the name of Sir Tom Jones is usually at the top.  I very much doubt though, that McKeon ever wrangled his guitar like this when he was accompanying Jones the Voice.
McKeon previously came to my attention via the band Rufus Black, whose album Rise Up came over like Free-meets-funk, with plentiful injections of stinging, imaginative guitar.  New Morning is
Scott McKeon - he plays guitar a bit
Pic by Rob Blackham
a largely instrumental album that steps further into left field, with the leading role handed to McKeon’s guitar playing.  But the rest of the cast are also kept mighty busy by the intricate stuff captured here.
This is particularly true of drummer Jeremy Stacey, who kicks off ‘Fight No More’ with a complex, twitching pattern that gives a glimpse of the shape of things to come, augmented by some rich, ducking and diving bass from Rocco Palladino.  McKeon overlays this with some tweeting lead licks, then develops a wiry, Hendrix-like solo before crashing into some slam-dunk power chords.  A meditative vocal refrain swings around a couple of times, but then they don’t spare the horses on an explosive crescendo.
There’s an enjoyable whiff of the Rufus Black sound in all this, and the last couple of tracks, ‘Everything Is Nothing’ and ‘Take Me Back’, swing back round that way to complete the circle.  Rufus Black vocalist Gavin Conder pops up on both of these to add his Paul Rodgers/Steve Marriott-like voice to the equation, giving them a soulful blues tinge.  ‘Everything Is Nothing’ has a funky drummer foundation too though, and Conder’s singing alternates with bouts of a chunky, Zep-like, staircase-climbing riff, while McKeon sets off on some scragging, strafing solo breaks.  ‘Take Me Back’ has a more restrained feel, with McKeon and guitar buddy Ben Jones conjuring up a guitar conversation at one point, and a vocal/guitar interchange that’s less yer typical call-and-response than a dialogue between two languages.
In between, the title track has a creeping guitar intro that McKeon overlays with drifting strands of reflective lead playing, before he slowly builds a solo with a tone that cuts like the edge of a knife.  Meantime Stacey again lays down some byzantine rhythms that bring a jazzy air to proceedings.  ‘Zapruder’ wades in on a sturdy, strutting riff that Ross Stanley’s Hammond Organ swirls around, before it dwindles into some twisting and turning guitar musings that straighten out to find the riff again, en route to some frantic variations on a theme before cooling off.  It’s like a supersonic jet roaring into the sky, then morphing into a gull gliding in to land.
Conder does another turn on ‘Third Eye Witness’, adding a crooning vocal to some brooding guitar chords and an offbeat rhythm, evoking a dreamy, latter-day Robert Plant vibe.  Then McKeon splutters into life with fuzzy, jagged notes like the signal coming and going as the dial is turned on an old-fashioned radio.  At times like these I suspect that McKeon is infinitely more knowledgeable than I am about Jeff Beck’s guitar explorations.
‘Crossfader’ is differently atmospheric, as discordant organ weaves over drums that patter like rain on a windowpane before resolving into a more assertive rhythm.  It’s the undertow for squelched and squeezed guitar notes that eventually coalesce into a squalling solo, while the drums turn into a hail shower that swirls in the channel-switching of the title.
There are nine tracks on offer here, spread over 54 minutes, so you know you’re not in three-minute wonder, three-chord trick territory.  Me, I like the stuff that leans most towards that Rufus Black funkin’ soulful rock vibe, especially with Gavin Condor’s voice in the mix.  But I reckon the people who will really dig New Morning are fans of fusion-leaning guitar wizardry that bends licks out of shape and turns them inside out.  If that’s your bag, then I suggest you let Scott McKeon lead you on a journey to another dimension.

New Morning is released on 23 April, and can be pre-ordered here.

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