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Neal Schon - 'The Calling' Hot

Added by Central Electronic Brain     October 31, 2012    
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Very few instrumental guitar albums are as accessible and tuneful as this one.

The last decade has seen AOR giants Journey gradually step up the pace to return to a full-on touring and recording band, releasing no less than three new albums in the last seven years and play regularly around the globe, frequently in places they omitted in their glory days. Guitar maestro Neal Schon has kept up a fairly regular routine of solo releases since the early 80s, from his eclectic collaborations with Jan Hammer, through his excursions into smooth jazz, blues and fusion, and band projects like Bad English, Hardline, H.S.A.S. and Soul Sirkus. When you consider all of the above it shouldn't come as a surprise that this is Schon's first solo album in seven years, since 2005's excellent instrumental outing 'I On U' in fact. Also entirely instrumental, ‘The Calling’ sees Schon handling all the guitars and bass, with ex-Yes keyboard player Igor Lens on piano and keys and former Journey drummer extraordinaire Steve Smith pounding the skins.

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There’s quite a lot of variety contained therein, from the Satriani-esque opening title track to the seemingly improvised jams of the closing duo ‘Transonic Funk’ and ‘Song Of The Wind II’, the latter harking right back to his Santana days. You get Schon’s familiar soaring melodies ringing out on the busy ‘Primal Surge’ and a flurry of jazzy runs on the aptly named ‘Carnival Jazz’, whilst the beautiful tones of ‘True Emotion’, the early Journey-vibe of ‘Six String Waltz’ and ‘Blue Rainbow Sky’ (his ode to Ronnie James Dio) have those heart-wringing blues notes that could have only come from one man. On a uniformly strong record there are maybe four songs that stand above the rest, the title-track I’ve already mentioned, the punchy Jeff Beck-like ‘Back Smash’ on which Schon and a busy Steve Smith both shine (and check out the unexpected acoustic guitar solo!), whilst ‘Fifty-Six’ and ‘Tumbleweeds’ both benefit from a guest appearance from Schon’s old sparring partner, Jan Hammer. ‘Fifty-Six’ has an early Journey-vibe and some inspired soloing, as well as some cool sitar sounds reminiscent in parts of Journey's ‘Dream After Dream’, whilst ‘Tumbleweeds’ is a superb jazz-rock blowout with some breathtaking trade-offs from Neal and the mercurial Hammer, whose familiar synth sounds still give me goosebumps.

‘The Calling’ may well be Neal Schon’s best solo album since ‘Late Night’, although it has to be said that the sound of the album doesn’t quite reach those heady heights. For Neal Schon to still be making so much quality music after over forty years in the business is quite remarkable, and if you like instrumental guitar albums there are very few around that are as accessible and tuneful as this one.

Phil Ashcroft

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