Inspiration for just about any creative endeavor can be hard to come by. As guitarists, we often like to listen to great guitarists play fantastic music. Here is a list of a few fantastic guitar-oriented albums that may have been off of your radar. These are in no particular order:
Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds: Live at Luther College.
This album is absolutely amazing. Just 21 songs of live performance with only two guitars and a voice. Dave Matthews is an outstanding rhythm guitar player who uses perfect timing and creative chord voicings to create a vibe that is truly unique. On top of that, you have Tim Reynolds, a fantastic improviser who really cut his teeth on electric guitar and heavy metal. His creativity with the acoustic guitar on this album is outstanding and never do you feel that he is working outside of the Dave Matthews Band box. This two-disc set is a must have for all acoustic guitarists. My favorite cut: “Tripping Billies” on disc one.
Days of the New: Days of the New
The breakout self-titled album had a few hits in the late-nineties with “Shelf in the Room” and “Touch, Peel and Stand.” Although both of these songs are very good, they are just two songs out of 11 (not including “Cling,” a hidden 15-min. track) that all show a great deal of creativity and skillful playing with an acoustic guitar. Arpeggiated chording, layered with great vocals and tasteful solos make each track very interesting. This is another album that showcases the power of the acoustic guitar. Favorite cut: “The Down Town.”
Dire Straits: Communique
Dire Straits will always have a special place in my six-string heart. I grew up listening to every Dire Straits album with my father. I even decided to buy a Strat for my first electric guitar because Mark Knopfler played one early in his career. Dire Straits’ first two albums were a guitar enthusiast’s coup because they are the only two albums in Dire Straits collection that featured two guitarists: Mark Knopfler and his brother David Knopfler. This album stands out as one of the few rock albums in the late 70’s that used very little distortion. Perfect timing, great Travis picking and, in my opinion, one of the best songs of all time. If you like more substance than flash, this album is for you. Favorite cut: easily “Single-handed Sailor.”
Joe Satriani: Surfing with the Alien
Okay, this album may not be considered by some of you to be “obscure” but many of you may not have heard of Joe Satriani, or passed on a chance to listen because of his hard rock instrumental style. But the reality is that Joe is an incredibly melodic player who just happens to be very fast. This album is filled with 10 songs that keep you interested with compelling melodies and athletic playing. Forget Yngwie, Vai or Johnson. Satch is still king of the hill to me. Favorite cut: “Satch Boogie.”
Keb’ Mo’: The Door
I really could have picked any of Keb’s albums. They are all very homogeneous, each containing skillful song-writing and guitar playing. What sets this album apart from the others is that the guitar isn’t showcased as a centerpiece instrument. Instead, the guitar is blended with bass, accordion, organ and drums in a way that is extremely musical. Keb’ Mo’ rips off awesome solos occasionally, but Keb’s claim to fame is outstanding song-writing for the guitar. You never feel like he’s writing or playing to show off. He just writes finely-crafted songs. Favorite cut: “Gimme What You Got.”
Los Lonely Boys: Los Lonely Boys
Their self-titled album may have had great commercial success because of their great vocal harmonies and catchy lyrics, but the guitar playing on this album is what brings me back again and again. Henry Garza definitely graduated from the SRV school of guitar playing, but that’s a good thing. His playing is a bit more R&B than SRV, but the vibe is still there. His rhythm playing is tight, especially on “Nobody Else,” and the solos are very melodic and exciting. A must listen. Favorite cut: “Onda.”
Rage Against the Machine: Rage Against the Machine
This album, to me, is a classic. The name says it all and each track delivers the promise that the band’s name makes. This album makes you angry. Furious, really. Every cut. And it isn’t just Zach De La Rocha’s vehemently-delivered anarchist lyrics. Tom Morello’s guitar playing is both uncompromisingly aggressive and relentlessly catchy. The riffage on this album is non-stop. Each cut makes you want to re-tune your guitar to dropped-D and learn every riff. If you have an electric guitar then you must have this album. Guitar stores should package this album with each electric guitar it sells. Favorite cut: “Know Your Enemy.”
Umphrey’s McGee: Safety in Numbers
You might call Umphrey’s McGee a jam band, but that wouldn’t give them the credit for outstanding song-writing and arrangements that they deserve. There is a lot of guitar on this album and most of it is different than anything than I’ve ever heard. There are interesting uses of scales, chords and strange time signatures. This band features two guitarists, Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger, and each can play at the highest levels. If you’re looking for a different shade of rock, check them out. Favorite cut: “Women, Wine and Song.”
Now that I’ve said my piece, please share your favorite guitar-oriented albums by commenting below.
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