Sunday, May 18, 2014

Neal SCHÖN: "So U" (Journey)

Rating: RRR+
Label: Frontiers 2014
Review by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom

Warum bist du nicht so (Neal) Schön? That's easy. According to your average know-it-all, he's quite the pompous U.S. guitarist with no connection to proper blues or jazz for that matter? Now hold your horses and let me explain this outrageous statement further. We all know of the German? as the superb guitarist from Journey and Bad English for that matter. There's no doubt whatsoever about his ability, skill or flashy moves and technique. We do like his fretwork and absolutely love the clean tone usually found on the Journey/Bad English albums, however (here's your big 'but'). He might just have the reputation of being too posh for the blues?

I'm obviously talking about his perfect (amp) studio guitar sound. They even describe his tones as 'absolutely luxurious' in the press-release. Well... excuse me. There's no lux in proper blues. At least not according to my books. It's gritty, dirty, muddy, raw, and basically out of control movements from your waist down. The Les Paul on this record is definitely fuzzier than usual and keep in mind that Schön started out as backup guitarist in Santana's band. The "posh" guitarist has joined forces with bassist Marco Mendoza (Black Star Riders, Ted Nugent, Whitesnake) and drummer Deen Castronovo (Journey, Ozzy Osbourne, Steve Vai, Hardline) to create a fusion of jazz and blues-inspired virtuosic hard rock playing. The new album features Schön, Mendoza and Castronovo splitting vocal and writing duties, with many of the tracks also co-written by Night Ranger/Damn Yankee's songwriter, singer and bassist Jack Blades.

The opening number (Take a Ride) display the blues and the rather fuzzy guitar work by Schön. "Exotica" is the instrumental jazz/fusion track with excellent fret bass work by Mendoza and it's all very Santana somehow. "What You Want" is the sound of blues and Glenn Hughes and Mendoza does his best to channel Hughes' on the record. "Love Finds It Way" takes you back to the sound of Journey and their semi-ballads as Castronova does his very best to channel Perry. Add the hint of Sting and you're close to the core. "On My Way" and "Shelter", yet a couple of numbers in the style of Hughes and "Serenity" is the fun AOR rocker in the style of Journey on a date with Triumph (the band, not the bike/car).

Final verdict: Nine tracks, not a single crap tune, perhaps not enough of superb ones either? never quite the blues, jazz, or melodic hardrock. It's a fusion with several different faces and styles. Not bad, not bad at all. Ganz (Neal) Schön beachtlich, nicht wahr? nicht? no?

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