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Album Review: Michael Landau - "Organic Instrumentals"

Aided by an ace band, he has crafted the most satisfying all-guitar album I’ve heard since Jeff Beck’s "Blow by Blow" and "Wired."

Michael Landau
Organic Instrumentals
Tone Center

As a huge fan of Michael Landau’s toothy Strat tones— especially with Burning Water and The Raging Honkies—I’ve collected and studied his CDs over the years. Yet I wasn’t prepared for Organic Instrumentals, Landau’s latest solo effort. Aided by an ace band, he has crafted the most satisfying all-guitar album I’ve heard since Jeff Beck’s Blow by Blow and Wired.

Perhaps that’s not surprising: There’s a lot of Beck in these 10 tracks, principally in Landau’s snappy, fingers-pulling-strings attack and supreme wang-bar artistry. These Beck-isms are balanced by equal amounts of Electric Ladyland sounds, specifically the epic riffs, slinky double-stops, and spacey bends Jimi worked into “1983” and “Rainy Day, Dream Away.”

And thanks to organist Larry Goldings, who plays on most of Organic Instrumentals, we hear another major “Rainy Day” theme—the mesmerizing interplay between ringing Strat and churning Hammond. Organist Mike Finnigan introduced this grooving sound to the Hendrix catalog back in 1968, but here Landau and Goldings explore it more deeply. In “Ghouls and the Goblins,” they even push beyond psychedelic blues to echo the fusion John McLaughlin and organist Larry Young pioneered with drummer Tony Williams in Lifetime.

Landau also breaks out his flattop on this album and that’s a real treat. “Delano” suggests some of Bruce Cockburn’s ringing fingerpicked lines, and “The Family Tree” brings Kelly Joe Phelps to mind, at least until Landau’s acoustic meditations morph into trippy electric textures.

Speaking of those, the album is laced with feedback, reverse delay, robotic chatter, and layers of shimmering chords that swirl around Landau’s solos and lines. Such aural peek-a-boo has always been a hallmark of Landau’s recordings, but on Organic Instrumentals, it reaches a new level of sophistication. Landau mixed the record, so he had free rein to indulge his sonic fantasies, and every tune has two or three primary guitar parts that bob and weave like Asian fighting kites. Still, there’s a remarkable amount of space in the music and most of these tracks evolve pensively before Landau erupts into a blistering solo. If you’re into masterful fretwork, Organic Instrumentals will leave you transfixed. —Andy Ellis

Must-hear tracks: “Smoke”