Earl Slick - Zig Zag
3 1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Jan. 6, 2004
Review by Tony BonyataWhile far from a household name, there's absolutely no reason why guitarist Earl Slick shouldn't be. As a musician's musician Slick has now been in demand for three decades, lending his unique talents to an array of artists such as John Lennon (Double Fantasy), Mott The Hoople's Ian Hunter and, most notably, David Bowie (David Live, Young Americans, Station To Station and Reality), among others.
Aside from these important collaborations, Slick also recorded two spirited blues-based rock albums with his own group - The Earl Slick Band - in the mid-'70s, before briefly forming another act - Phantom, Rocker and Slick - in the mid-'80s with former Stray Cats Slim Jim Phantom and Lee Rocker. Unfortunately, however, the last time he's recorded anything under his own name was back in 1991 when he released the entertaining album In Your Face - a largely instrumental effort with drummer Terry Bozzio, which showcased Slick's searing virtuosity as a lead guitarist.
Although Slick fell out of the music business over the last decade, his recent reunion with Bowie - both on his Reality album and current Reality World Tour (slated to hit Chicagoland next week), has apparently rejuvenated him enough to record another solo effort; quite arguably his strongest to date.
On his new album Zig Zag, Slick unleashes the slash-and-burn leads and poignant guitar passages that he's long been known for. But now for the first time - instead of lending his talents to other's albums - Earl now has many of his famous friends knocking at his door, offering their own rich performances to his work.
Often the stumbling blocks a non-singing guitarist has had to face when recording their own solo material is either how to make the instrumental numbers work on the own without any vocals (not an easy feat to pull off for 45-plus minutes), or how to make an array of different guest vocalists all work within one cohesive sounding package, rather than merely a spotty patchwork of unrelated artists.
With an album interspersed with brightly composed instrumental pieces ("Dancing with Eleanor," "1735," "The Cat" and the blistering "Pike St.") along with six different vocal numbers, Slick has created the perfect format for a rock guitarist's own album. Although the vocal numbers here are all performed by very unique individuals, they all make for welcome bedfellows under the same covers. David Bowie lends his warm, familiar croon on the solid "Isn't It Evening (The Revolutionary)," while the voice of The Cure's Robert Smith floats along with Slick's aching guitar line on the album's first single "Believe." The collaborations between The Motels' Martha Davis on "St. Mark's Place" and Def Leppard's Joe Elliot on "Psycho Twang" also prove interesting, while Spacehog's lead vocalist Royston Langdon turns in a cool, detached performance on the title track that sounds eerily similar to The Thin White Duke when Slick starting working with him in the '70s.
"Earl is a legendary guitar star and a musician of great feeling," Bowie recently stated. "His playing is earthy, timeless and never less than stellar." Of course, if you don't believe David, just give this disc a spin and find out for yourself.
Earl Slick will be performing with David Bowie on January 13, 14 and 16 at the Rosemont Theatre, 5400 N. River Rd., Rosemont, IL. (847) 671-5100
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