California Guitar Trio are frequent visitors to the Rockford area and with their imminent return on March 10th, it seems a great time to have a look at their latest studio effort. While it has been a few years since Whitewater was released, the album still holds up wonderfully. It manages to encompass the scope and breadth of the type of music the band consistently produce, while still holding up as an extremely entertaining disc.
While many in the Rockford area are no doubt quite familiar with the group (as frequently as they show up here there must be some die-hard fans) a bit of an introduction is probably in order for those who haven't heard them. California Guitar Trio is composed of three musicians who came from Robert Fripp's (of King Crimson fame) League of Crafty Guitarists. These guys create instrumental progressive rock using (for the most part) only acoustic guitars and effects. The resulting sound is purely awe-inspiring. With the type of technical skill and artistry inherent these guys especially appeal to musicians, but all fans of creative sounds based on both rock and classical elements will enjoy CGT.
The group's live shows are probably best remembered for their rendition of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" and a unique approach to classical compositions. The latter is a round robin sort of take on the music. In this method each musician takes one note of the piece. They follow this pattern throughout - the first guitarist takes note one, the next note two, then the final man plays the third note, bringing it back to the person who started the piece. This disc contains one piece of music like that, a number from Bach. They also bring in quite an interesting example of their way of covering rock songs. This one is a musical marriage of the song "Ghost Riders in the Sky" and "Riders on the Storm." If those two pieces were the only highlights of the disc, it would be a strong album, but there is really no weak material here, making this an awesome release.
As mentioned, there are moments on the CD where other instruments show up. The best example of this is the song "Mee-Woo." Tony Levin (best known for his work with King Crimson and Peter Gabriel) adds fretless bass to the cut. It should also be noted that Levin produced the entire outing and has been a long time collaborator with CGT. The thing is, there are songs where you will find it hard to believe all the sounds could come from guitars - yet they do. The opening ballad (a tune rather like old Genesis) is one of these, as is the frantic "Cantaris" with its combination of classical and King Crimson-like elements. Those are but two examples from a disc that has many of them. The song "Led Foot" manages to pull off a metallic crunch sound reminiscent of Robin Trower, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin, while "Red Iguana" includes a section that feels a bit like Black Sabbath.
While you can't really pin CGT down to any one sound, that aspect is really a strength of this CD. There are a few things that are consistent throughout, though. One of those is musical integrity and skill. Another is a sense of achievement beyond the scope of "normal music." CGT fans will certainly understand that power of this release, and indeed have probably owned it for a while. If you, on the other hand, have never heard California Guitar Trio, this disc would be a great place to start. It is both a solid overview of what this group does, and a highly entertaining album. If you give them a chance you will probably be coming back for more.