Gary Steel is tired of NZ musicians making albums that are glorified calling cards rather than coherent musical statements.
Okay, so it’s going too far to say that Studies In Tubular sucks, but what a wasted opportunity!
Neil Watson – who has performed with an impressive range of jazz-oriented musicians over the past 20 years or so – is clearly a guitar shredder par excellence. Unfortunately, having the technical propensity to impress the punters with your guitar wizardry doesn’t guarantee that you’ll have the vision to carry off a great album.
If Watson had kept it going like he started it, Studies In Tubular would be a New Zealand guitar groove classic. ‘Metres Ahead’ is a funky-ass track over which Watson gets to impress us with both his guitar skills, and ability to wrestle a ‘voice’ from those strings. The second piece, ‘Wes De Money’, is a charming ‘60s-style boogie for which the perfect visuals would be a groovy club with topless go-go dancers, and – as with the rest of the album – it’s propelled along by the exceptional drumming of Ron Samsom.
Sadly, Watson then changes course, presumably in an attempt to prove just how versatile he is on a wide range of musical styles. What he forgets, however, is that the average punter couldn’t give a flying kalamata olive whether he’s adaptable, and if the average punter is anything like this listener, they just want to hear something that coheres as an album.
Things recover only on the last track, ‘Sneaky Suspicion’, which has a simmering, dirty groove, and where Watson gets to ‘wow’ us with his guitar-tricknology. Having said that, it’s probably more for fret-nerds than the common or garden music fan.
Prior to this, there’s a slightly countryish piece featuring acoustic guitar and bass (‘Kerala’), an unadventurous country-blues (‘Sweet Corn & Melon’), a George Benson sound-alike (‘Five Bye Blues’), redundant sax-heavy jazz splooge (‘Proliferation’) and Chicago-style electric blues (‘D.A.E. 101’). Oh, and a slightly less rewarding groove tune called ‘Boog A Gee’.
It’s possible that Neil Watson put his heart and soul into this project but, as I’ve said on numerous occasions about NZ musicians who make albums that are essentially calling cards, 40 minutes of incoherence does not make for a great listening experience. A real album establishes the musical and stylistic character of the musicians. This isn’t a real album, but a glorified audition tape.
Sound: While the sound is acceptable, and better than average – there’s sufficient separation between instruments to hear everything clearly – the quality varies somewhat from track to track, and on ‘Sweet Corn & Melon’ (for instance) there’s quite a bit of amp hum and a certain irritating toppiness. GARY STEEL
MUSIC = 3/5
SOUND = 3/5
[Note: Gary Steel reserves the right to reappraise and alter his star ratings up or down at any time].