“Tone, Twang and Taste” – Pete Kennedy

4 stars (out of 5)

0

Tone, Twang and TasteIn the years between the invention of the electric guitar in the early 1930s and its adoption by rock and roll groups in the late fifties and early sixties, there was a very steep learning curve for jazz and dance band players as they realised that this wasn’t just a louder version of the acoustic guitar, but a new instrument with its own distinct tonal qualities and capabilities.  Pete Kennedy’s latest solo album explores this period through his interpretations of standards from this era, a few less well-known pieces and some of his own compositions. 

If you haven’t listened to Pete Kennedy before, then you really should.  Listen to his solo work or his albums as one half of The Kennedys, with his wife Maura; it’s all good.  Pete is a technically superb player so, as you might expect, the quality of the playing throughout is excellent.  The first three tracks on the album (“This Ain’t the Blues”, “Cannonball Rag”, and “The Mad Russian”) are all characterised by the clear, toppy tone which still survives today in country music and some blues, but which you rarely hear in effects-heavy rock music.  “Rhapsody in Blue”, which has become a live staple, is a ukulele version of the famous George Gershwin mood piece; you have to hear it to believe it.  Pete has also previously recorded a guitar version of this piece.

The uptempo country of “Jerry’s Breakdown” is followed by high register jazz version of the standard “How High the Moon” and the Pete Kennedy original, swing blues “Baby Catt’s Blues”, dedicated to Baby Catt Garland and played in the style of her uncle, Hank Garland.  Tunes made famous by three very different guitarists follow this: Chet Atkins’ “Main Street Breakdown”, Django Reinhardt’s “Minor Swing” and Charlie Christian’s “Seven Come Eleven” before the standard, “Harlem Nocturne”, opens with an over-driven blues sound which is almost shocking in the context of the rest of the album.  The gentle harmony guitars of “Lover” come next before another Pete Kennedy original, “Django’s Train” in the style of – well you work it out.  The closing track is another live favourite, the JS Bach piece “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”. Roger McGuinn says that this piece was the inspiration for the intro to “Mr Tambourine Man”; it was also used by the Beach Boys for “Lady Lynda”.

Great albums can affect us in different ways; this one made me smile.  I love to hear dedicated and talented musicians showing their skills and generally having a good time and there’s plenty of that here.  It’s a perfect way of exploring the pre-rock development of the electric guitar and, I hope, bringing some incredible musicians back into the spotlight.  It made me go back and listen again to Chet Atkins, Jerry Reed, Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian while introducing me Speedy West and Hank Garland.  It’s fair to say that “Tone, Twang and Taste” won’t be seen as fashionable, but with talent like this on display, who cares about fashion?