Emotion & Commotion
There are probably more guitar players than lawyers. Maybe in some remote part of the world. Some of them play really cool riffs. A few even have a couple of neat little tricks up their sleeves. But where do you go when it’s all been said and done? If you’re Jeff Beck, it’s straight to the moon. Five decades on, the guitarist could easily switch over to cruise control. Ah, that would be too easy. On Emotion & Commotion, his first studio release since 2003’s adventurous Jeff album, Beck isn’t concerned with riding the next new wave; he’s refining his rubbery ready sting within a more sophisticated and classic framework. It works like an absolute charm.
Jimmy Page talked about combining the guitar with orchestration, and even dabbled with a bit of it in Led Zeppelin and again in the 90s when he reunited with Robert Plant. Beck goes one better, lacing up his arching slinky lines over thick slabs of strings, creating a sensation of velocity, passion and plain old yearning. This is all too apparent on the opening salvo “Corpus Christi Carol” and the randomly placed “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.” An ethereal hush drives the lull of “Serene” and the guitarist takes the oars with Imelda May swaying through the verses of “Lilac Wine.” This is what you call aging gracefully.
Then, like an operatic tornado, Beck dances the dance within the beatific jingo of Giacomo Puccini’s classic Italian tenor aria, “Nessun Dorma.” The fiery finally rests during the angelic call of Dario Marianelli’s “Elegy For Dunkirk,” featuring Olivia Safe, described as a singer who mixes opera with electronica and classical with pop. Beck’s evasive manner noses through the wreckage like a calm superintendent of sound and centrifuge. All's clear for landing.
If the whole album were saturated in lush strings, vibes and that heart-wrenching tone, it would still get plenty of spins around the old plantation. That’s what the Emotion part of the CD is all about. The Commotion part comes in many shades and colors. You get a pair of cozy R&B tracks — Screaming Jay Hawkins’ “I Put A Spell On You” and the original (but not, like all the other tunes, written by Beck) “There’s No Other Me” — sharpened to a primal and sultry claw by the incomparable Joss Stone. “Hammerhead” will have everyone who ever picked up Blow By Blow or Guitar Shop dancing in the aisles. We'll leave it that.
Still, with such a sparse sampling of Beck’s palatial histrionics in lieu of a leaner, more cultivated approach, you’d think the British guitar slinger was in serious danger of alienating his flock. The trouble is Beck’s flock knows what strange turns and twist lie ahead. They expect the unexpected and invite the challenge of consequence. Listening to the peaks and valleys stretching across the expanse of Emotion & Commotion, you have to be grateful Jeff Beck wants to keep you guessing what’s around the corner. He'll always have my ear for that.
~ Shawn Perry