Jeff Beck likes to throw curve balls. He did it in the 70s when he went the fusion route on Blow By Blow. Then, In the 80s, 90s and 00s, he jumped into big guitar instrumental records, pop-flavored trinkets with a beat, soundtracks, one-offs with Tina Turner and Rod Stewart, tributes to Gene Vincent and Les Paul, anything to keep his fingers flowing and the engine running (Beck fans will understand). For the guitarist, the idiosyncratic journey seemingly keeps the whole idea of making music a challenge, an ongoing experiment that cultivates new collaborations and sustains the passion, for both himself and his audience. His 2016 release Loud Hailer is proof positive of that.
For his first studio album since 2010’s Emotion & Commotion, Loud Hailer has Beck veering away from stoic orchestral guitar antics and falling smack dab into a politically charged batch of 11 earthy and ethereal numbers featuring vocalist Rosie Bones and guitarist Carmen Vandenberg from the UK band Bones. Though his status as one of the world’s greatest guitarists was sealed when he hit a stride recording predominantly instrumental albums, Beck has confessed to a desire of working with singers. In recent years, his duets with Josh Stone, Imelda May, and Beth Hart have wielded soulful, heartfelt performances. What he’s done with Bones goes into a decidedly different direction.
Take the opening “The Revolution Will Be Televised.” Lifting off very much in the vein of a mighty Jeff Beck instrumental, the track is seasoned with Bones’ sweet-twanged enunciations, a gaggle of observations. Bones then soars on “Live In The Dark,” allowing Beck’s sparkling guitar lines to flow through distorted filters and jolting tones, skipping to a sumptuous beat and tempo. Other tracks like “Right Now,” and the epic “The Ballad Of The Jersey Wives” follow a similar path. Occasional instrumental fillers like “Pull It,” a showcase of Beck’s inventive grunts and grizzle, and “Edna,” shrouded in darkness by that subtle touch, remind everyone that this is indeed a Jeff Beck record.
“Scared For The Children,” cast in echoey sentiment, gives Beck and Bones a chance to dance with the melody. The guitarist said in an interview that the lyrics, which he apparently wrote with Bones, were inspired by what he views as “modern youth being dumbed down by endless drivel on TV.” Ironic how a topic, faint of optimism, could be interpreted through the elegant power of Beck’s guitar and a soothing chorus. Then again, there’s “O.I.L.,” with its refrain, “can’t get enough that sticky stuff,” taking aim at the world’s dependence of petroleum and framed as an upbeat pick-me-up, rife with Beck’s snappy, funkified turns. Bones, Vandenberg and producer Fillipo Cimatti answer back with a resourceful rhythm, unassailable vocals loaded with innuendo.
As the closer, “Shrine” evocatively gives light to the social commentary comprising much of the record. And there it rests. His guitar as a sort of guide, Beck allows Bones and Vandenberg ample room on Loud Hailer to highlight their talents and square the communion on equal footing. At its core, of course, as it has been on so many great records of the last 50 years, are the magical fingers of Jeff Beck injecting unparalleled precision into a few shady grooves.
~ Shawn Perry