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Album Review: Joe Satriani - "Unstoppable Momentum"

Not since the heyday of hearing “Satch Boogie” and “Cliffs of Dover” on the radio has instrumental guitar rock been so fun.

Joe Satriani
Unstoppable Momentum

A Door Into Summer by Joe Satriani

Not since the heyday of hearing “Satch Boogie” and “Cliffs of Dover” on the radio has instrumental guitar rock been so fun. Now that Joe Satriani has found an outlet for his more commercial output with Chickenfoot, it’s almost like the pressure is off and he can sit back, relax, and play. On Unstoppable Momentum, Satch sets aside the futuristic slant from his last few outings and gives his strongest performances since his self-titled 1995 release.

Even though you can hear the joy in Satriani’s playing on every track, he doesn’t hesitate to unleash a barrage of pick-tapping Whammy pedal fury in the opening title track. His saturated Ibanez-meets-Marshall tone is in full force and even though the gain is plentiful, the clarity is rather amazing. Outside of maybe Tom Morello, Satriani is one of the few guitarists who can play an entire solo devoid of “licks” and still pull it off with aplomb. The medium-tempo stomp shuffle of “Three Sheets to the Wind” brings to mind the melodicism of the Beatles without becoming derivative—a tough feat these days. Drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and bassist Chris Chaney are mostly to blame for the burning rhythmic backing that allows Satriani to explore every inch (both harmonically and dynamically) of each tune. And honestly, is there anything keyboardist Mike Keneally can’t do? The former Zappa alum’s presence is felt throughout the straight-ahead lo-fi grind of “Jumpin’ Out.”

To my ears, the true sign of a well-crafted instrumental is that you could easily imagine lyrics going along with the melody. On “Can’t Go Back,” Satriani begins with a new wave-ish groove before launching into a wah-drenched melody á la “Cool #9.” For the Satriani army, this will be a welcome return to a stripped-down sound that relies a little less on futuristic themes and motifs and more on what inspired many of his followers—a cool guitar plugged into a loud amp.

Must-hear track: “Jumpin’ In”