CD Review: Jimmy Herring – Subject To Change Without Notice

Posted: October 14, 2012 in Blues, Jazz, Rock Music
Tags: , , ,

I picked up Jimmy Herring’s latest solo release this week and I’m enjoying it immensely.  On several levels I find it to be even better than his freshman release “Lifeboat”.  The jazz influences are clearer and his incorporation of jazz organ and some gypsy jazz violin is really treated expertly.

Excerpted from the Jimmy Herring website….

A peerless musician, possessing formidable technical resources, ample imagination, and improvisational grace, Jimmy Herring has thrived alongside some of the most demanding and iconic figures in contemporary music. From his ongoing role as lead guitarist in Widespread Panic to his stints with the Allman Brothers, the Dead, Phil Lesh and Friends, Colonel Bruce Hampton and the Aquarium Rescue Unit, and his co-lead trio Project Z, Herring has consistently elevated any number of musical environments with his fearless, fluid, and responsive guitar work.

(For…) Subject to Change Without Notice —Herring set out to make an instrumental album inspired by the first-person soulfulness of the human voice. “Nothing will ever be the human voice,” he reflects. “But I want to get as close as I can to that sound with a guitar. That’s the most wonderful instrument of all.” The result is eclectic and wide-ranging, but tied together with an uncommon melodicism and uncluttered compositional clarity rare in instrumental music.

Producer John Keane was an ideal ally in this fruitful endeavor. Not readily associated with instrumental music, Keane (who is also a remarkable pedal steel player and recording engineer) is best known for his production and engineering work with such song-driven outfits as REM, the Indigo Girls, and Cowboy Junkies, to name but a few. His touch was essential to realizing Herring’s vision of an instrumental album possessing genuine emotional depth.

“Keane is absolutely brilliant,” Herring says, enthusiastically. “Through learning Widespread’s material, I had the studio records that they made with him. They just blew me away. Then when I made the Dirty Side Down record with him and Panic, I was in awe of his ideas and his engineering. He’s every bit as good an engineer as any musician is on his or her instrument. And I love his steel playing. It’s not a virtuoso sound: It’s a texture within the music that brings this hymnal, angelic quality. It’s ethereal, and I wanted that element in the music I recorded.”

Sharing bass duties are Jimmy Herring Band member Neal Fountain and Etienne Mbappe, who Herring met when doing a few shows opening for John McLaughlin’s current ensemble. “It’s amazing to me that Etienne, who is one of the most in-demand bass players in Europe, expressed interest in playing on this album even before I asked him,” Herring remarks. “I mean, he got on a plane from Poland and flew to Atlanta to play with us. I suppose I’m attracted to music from other cultures and I find it intriguing that maybe he, being from Africa and living in Paris, is equally curious about our redneck take on fusion.”

More than any one instrumental voice, it is the eloquence of Herring’s compositions that form the forefront of Subject to Change Without Notice. While the album storms out of the gate with a brisk, gypsy-jazz-inflected swinger called “Red Wing Special” (with guest fiddle from Nicky Sanders of the Steep Canyon Rangers), it then relaxes into an evocative headspace courtesy of the evocative textures and powerful melodies of the widescreen “Kaleidoscope Carousel” and the gospel-tinged “Aberdeen.” The album also cycles through elegant acoustic moments (“Emerald Garden”) and churning gutbucket funk (“Bilgewater Blues”).

The covers assayed on Subject to Change Without Notice represent three key pillars of Herring’s musical sensibility. George Harrison’s “Within You, Without You” pays homage to both Herring’s love of melodic pop and of traditional Indian music and an expertly executed reading of the melody followed by a blistering modal solo played over a drone. Herring’s articulation throughout Subject to Change Without Notice—sometimes achieved with the use of the Stratocaster’s whammy bar (a device Herring has only recently begun experimenting with)—is consistently impressive, displaying a previously unheard, movingly vocal quality. “Miss Poopie,” learned from a Jimmy McGriff recording, acknowledges Herring’s debt to classic jazz, but is rendered with both authority and imagination. “A good cover,” says Herring, “is faithful to the original melody, but hopefully casts it in a new light and brings something unique to it.”

Herring pays tribute to the immense compositional and technical influence of John McLaughlin with a rendition of the Mahavishnu Orchestra’s “Hope,” with a searing solo statement from guest saxophonist Bill Evans. “The original recording is a mantra of sorts, it’s only 2 minutes long it didn’t have any solos on it,” says Herring with a smile. “I knew I one day wanted to record one of McLaughlin’s songs, but then I say to myself ‘Why bother? John McLaughlin already did the best possible solo on his version.’ But John didn’t play a solo on this one!”

“These are not necessarily complicated songs,” Herring continues, getting at the core of what makes Subject to Change Without Notice so refreshing. “When I started playing with Bruce Hampton in ’89, his band was all about simplicity. One of the biggest lessons I learned was the simpler the music was, the easier it is to be yourself. It’s easier to stretch it, to bend it, and to inject your personality into it. The more complicated it is, the easier it is to be a prisoner to it. With simple music, you can improvise around and within the melodies.”

A Behind the Scenes Look at the Making of “Subject To Change…”.

Some of the Other Herring Tracks (not all from STCWN)

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