Every Tuesday, I’m going to give you some ear candy. Each week I will suggest a song for you to listen to. The songs that I choose each week will follow no criteria beyond this: it must have some interesting guitar playing in it. I hope you’ll find these selections motivating.
So to kick it off, I have to pick one of my favorite guitarists, Alex Lifeson, in one of my favorite bands, Rush. When conversations turn to Rush, people cite how great Geddy Lee is on bass and how phenomenal Neil Peart is on the drums. And I wouldn’t argue. Both Lee and Peart are truly masters on their instruments. And in their shadow is Lifeson, playing second guit-fiddle to two excellent musicians. But Lifeson doesn’t sulk in the shadows – he lurks, deftly sneaking in his own flavor of virtuosity.
“La Villa Strangiato” is a perfect example of how good Lifeson is. He holds his own in a song filled with fantastic percussion and bass work. In fact, I contend that Lifeson carries this song. At an epic 9 minutes and 35 seconds, “La Villa Strangiato” is a testament to Lifeson’s stamina, skill and versatility. The song starts with a finger-picked classical guitar motif that sets the dynamic mood. This classical guitar run alone is sets Lifeson apart from many other guitarists. The song then slowly builds momentum as the main theme – performed by Lifeson – fades in over a hi-hattin’ groove.
From there, it is simply a song to behold. Great power chord/pentatonic riffage in the main theme commences around 2:02 into the cut. A second theme is introduced about 30 seconds later, which displays a more diatonic approach to rockin’ it.
The song breaks down to a third theme at 3:40 that sets an ethereal mood where Lifeson lays low with some creative volume swells, coaxing violin-esque sounds out of his guitar. In classic Rush fashion, the song slowly builds momentum lead by a very impressive solo by Lifeson.
A fourth theme is introduced at 5:45 where the song kicks back into high gear. From this point on it is a rocket ride….hold on to your hats.
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I must admit that I too considered Lifeson as the weak link in the band,and I’ll try to explain why.
It’s not because Pert and Lee are stellar musicians, it’s just my subjective interpretation of Lifeson’s solos that leave me less than blown away. Not being a musician, I’ll admit that sometimes to me he seems to wander from the melody and goes off on a collection of notes that aren’t connected. I have to stress that I’m not a musician, but to my ear, some times he wanders off the established structure of the melody to my ears. I guess I’m more comfortable with lead playing along the lines of say, Martin Barre, and the like, whose leads are part of the glue that hold the song together, and at the same time infuse it with a certain strength. Just my two cents!
That being said…. I’m a real Rush fan! They’ve brought much enjoyment to me, and like Steely Dan and others, make me want to listen!
I agree with you on the solos. Lifeson doesn’t play conventional solos by any means. He is not melody-centric, which sometimes makes him hard to appreciate. But considering the ethereal context of many Rush songs, the other-worldly solos work for me. In fact, I stopped thinking of them as solos and more as a sounds scape. Try to imagine any other solo in its place. It just wouldn’t feel right.