Sunday, August 20, 2017

Gretchen Menn -- beauty is a beast

Gretchen Menn can play guitar. She's young, photogenic as hell and can do note for note renditions of classic Blackmore and Django solos, as evinced on YouTube. This makes her talented but maybe not sufficiently interesting to the music business of 2017. What does set this artist apart though is readily apparent on her new release Abandon All Hope.  Where most flashy young metal guitarists can dazzle you with fingerwork flourishes, lightening speed runs and classical-flavored solos to the point of boredom, it's a far rarer player that can compose and deliver an instrumental rock album of sufficient musical depth to keep a jaundiced listener like me engaged for more than a few tracks.

Certainly the music here mines a relatively narrow range of moods and textures. Forget the pretentious Dante's Inferno inspiration of the marketing materials, this music is fast and furious rock guitar offset with airy, etherial touches of strings; piledriver rhythms and choir-like background vocals, the sort of fantasy rock world  teenage air guitarists dream of creating. But to sum it up so is to do a disservice to what's on offer. For sure there's a few rock cliches, but  I hear a classicism in tunes like Shadows and Weights that takes me back to early 20th century works in another canon. Riffs like Hounds of Hades (yep, the titles sort of sum up the vibe) are derivative but within these constraints she solos with a lyricism that catches your ear and tells you something different is on offer.

Bloodshed and Rise bring the violin to the fore, revealing Menn's compositional skills.  Throughout the record vague celtic edges and even middle-Eastern vibes conjure up early Rainbow, particularly in tracks like Limbo and the modal Tempest. This creates a mood throughout that elevates the music above the simple 'look at what I can do' of typical rock instrumentalists and gives you a connection to a deeper well of music making that had me thankful that in 2017 some emerging guitarists are committed to pushing the form forward.

Obviously a guitarist has to make a living and the photos and imagery of an obviously beautiful woman are used to catch the audience's eye here,  but Menn is too talented to be limited by this or being reduced to a Zeppelin cover band. Her compositional skills and playing ability confirm a talent that warrants a creative career in music making and I hope she can garner the support to enable this.   If you cut beneath the surface,  her form's more of a jazz musician than a metal guitarist, improvising within a strict structure, but this album kicks rather than swings. I suspect there's better to come from her in the years ahead. I certainly can imagine soundtrack requests following the dramatic soundscapes presented here.

Sound quality and production sadly, are not great, the music is disappointingly compressed, lacking resolution and air (I downloaded an AIFF version for my Mac and played via USB through my PS Audio PWDII, but am still tweaking it so maybe there is hope) but no matter -- the music warrants listening through the full, near double-album length work without pause, and that's more than I can say for many rock instrumental albums of recent years. Enjoy the ride.

Find out more about her here

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