‘She Rocks, Vol. 1’ [Review]
UPDATE: TMMP has been reborn! This video has the full story:
Although it’s 2017, the question of whether or not women belong in rock and metal remains an emotional trigger point for many fans. Despite its status as an all-inclusive genre that provides shelter for those used to being excluded by others, heavy music still harbours a perhaps small but nonetheless extremely vocal element set on rabidly tearing down any musician in possession of big riffs, buckets of attitude, and non-phallic genitalia.
With She Rocks Vol. 1, Favored Nations – the record label run by world-renowned guitar wizard Steve Vai – has set out a resounding rebuke that should by rights silence sexists and provide more open minds with plenty of great music on which to feast. It’s pretty sad that this release will prove controversial in some quarters, but oh well. She Rocks isn’t the kind of album that’s going to meekly turn tail and flee, and we’re not about to turn back the clock and embrace the gender-related values of the 1950s again.
It’s not a case of “women can rock”.
They already do.
Opening She Rocks with a respectful salute in Steve Vai’s direction, Orianthi’s Transmogrify proves an easily accessible introduction to an exceptionally diverse set of primarily instrumental tunes. Check out the comments section of any given Orianthi-related YouTube video or Facebook post, and you’ll find plenty of people slating her playing – but come on. Ask yourself one question. One question.
Could you play like that?
While countless keyboard jockeys vie for position as King Of The Self-Proclaimed World-Class Guitarists Who’ve Mysteriously Never Recorded A Note, Orianthi is actually out there earning the respect of Actual Virtuosos. Anyway, as Transmogrify comes to a close with some blissful piano courtesy of Brooklyn Allman, it’s time to move into heavier territory.
If head-bobbing grooves are your thing, Yasi Hofer’s Cosmic Stars is a must-listen. Considering said grooves are mercilessly punched out by Marco Minnemann, it’s hardly surprising that rhythmically, Cosmic Stars is downright stellar. That said, great drum work can’t save a song if the star guitar sucks – and of course, that’s of no concern whatsoever.
Yasi Hofer knows what she’s doing, to say the least. Thanks to some apocalyptic riffage, space-filling cymbals, hectic shredding, brutal beatdowns, and Satriani-evoking melodies comprised of perfectly timed and immaculately chosen notes, Cosmic Stars was an early personal highlight. Eight minutes well-filled and well spent.
Not many albums shift from expansive prog-metal to smooth, soulful blues in the space of two songs, but U Know What I Like makes that transition feel entirely natural. Kat Dyson sails through She Rocks’ first vocal-led cut with ease, making room for her top-drawer backing band while showcasing the host of talents that got her working with the likes of Prince on just one stop in a long, glittering session career. U Know What I Like may not be rock, but still goes to show that attitude comes in many forms and flavours.
There are no limits on this album – and Sarah Longfield’s The Taxi Time Travel Task Force establishes that statement as a stone cold fact. A tap-happy fusion excursion running at just over three minutes, this is a straight up terrifying track crammed with notes both intense and serene. Absolutely one for the musos (and I count myself amongst them), The Taxi Time Travel Task Force is complex, intelligent, and was also short enough to persuade me do some research and discover that Sarah Longfield has a new album, Collapse / / Expand, coming out on February 22. I needed to hear more, and next month is looking like a strong one for guitar music on that evidence alone.
Did I mention that Sarah Longfield is also the only performer you hear while listening to The Taxi Time Travel Task Force? Bloody hell.
Next up, diving into the most classic of classic rock vibes with legendary rock luminary Lita Ford, backed up by Lez Zeppelin (no typo) on a full-steam-ahead cover of The Lemon Song. An interesting, gender-assumption-challenging choice given the lyrics – and musically, man alive. “Authentic” doesn’t cover it; this is music written by gods and performed by what She Rocks’ subtitle refers to as “A Collection of Kick-Ass Guitar Goddesses”.
Capital letters deserved right there.
Onward toward Jennifer Batten’s contribution, In The Aftermath. Written for and performed lovingly in the style of Jeff Beck, this one sees Batten embody Beck for possibly the ultimate guitar tribute track of all time. If you played In The Aftermath to someone who didn’t know Batten wrote and performed it, they’d assume Beck did it all.
Of course, no instrumental guitar collection would be complete without some utterly face-melting neoclassical shredding – and Nita Strauss obliges with the aptly named Pandemonium. If you have long hair, you’re morally obliged to whip it in circles to this one. Behind the notes, drummist Josh Villalta deals out a thrashy double-kick masterclass, holding down the fort with taste as and when it’s required.
Lez Zeppelin founder and lead guitarist Steph Paynes pops up next to deliver The Sun At Her Eastern Gate, a fat and atmospheric tune that demonstrates precisely why Paynes has shared stages with the likes of Keith Richards, Joey Ramone and Chuck Berry. This is the sound of someone who’s gotten their head down, done their rock ‘n’ roll homework, and paid their dues in full. It’s of a quality that can only be earned.
Sick solo too.
Back to mind-crushingly brutal metal. Nili Brosh’s A Matter Of Perception merges the melodic with the vicious in style, slick yet gritty lead lines laid over backing parts provided by Bryan Beller on bass, Virgil Donati on drums, and Alex Argento on keys. Emotionally, Brosh and her band run the gamut from uplifting hope to ferocious anxiety, the results a shining example of how metal at its best isn’t afraid to be vulnerable.
With an educational lineage that traces back to classical master Segovia, it’s no surprise that Gretchen Menn possesses more than her fair share of precision and dexterity. Thick, chugging riffs and stretchy arpeggios are the name of the game here, while Angeline Saris’s bass work lends an essential additional dimension and drummer John Mader gets briefly let loose too. Overall, a fun and entertaining showing.
One more to go: Yvette Young’s Hydra. One final two-handed extravaganza to see us off – and a perfectly chosen one at that. Angular melodic contours, pristine clean tones, spicy time signature choices…this is the perfect song to listen to while reflecting on all that’s come before.
Frankly, if by the end of this album you somehow conclude that women should stick to looking pretty in videos rather than daring to pick up instruments and express themselves, you don’t deserve ears. She Rocks Vol. 1 may be the first part of a series to come, but just as it is, it’s the perfect album to lift the lid on a world that sadly hasn’t received the degree of recognition it deserves. Until now, at least.
Again: It’s not a case of “women can rock”.
They already do.
TMMP RATING: 100% (Essential Listening!)
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She Rocks Vol. 1 is out now; buy it from iTunes here.