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February 05, 2007


CD REVIEWS: Ampline - Rosary and Andrew Collberg
I've got a couple of 2006 CDs here that I've had around for several months, meaning to say a few words for. I don't know that either one is particularly an all-time classic, but they both show some skills, and fans of their styles would probably be pretty pleased with either of them.

The closer to home for me stylistically is an eponymous debut album by 19 year old Andrew Collberg. He seems to be a very nice, earnest young Jewish boy. A girl could take this nice fellow home to meet the parents.

Now, this ain't a great album, but I find the tone of it highly agreeable. The basic point is that pretty much all these songs are somewhere in the range of that John Lennon ballad style. Nothing at all plagiaristic, but definitely derivative in the dreamy melodic style, and the Phil Spector effects on the vocal.

None of these songs really strike me as a knockout single, but they pretty nearly all have something to them. The pick of the litter is probably "Dream Tonight." This song starts with the best simple guitar riff and then the best lyrical hook on the album, addressing one who seems ready to "hang yourself from all your journal entries."

That's not entirely a bad thing, being somewhat imitative of John Lennon. None of these songs are going to make you forget "Julia" or "Across the Universe," but they do give him something ambitious to shoot for. The young dude is picking a top guy for a model.

And hey, at this age Ray Charles was basically imitating Nat King Cole. But then Ray wouldn't have been remembered much based on just the pre-Atlantic recordings. We'll see if young Master Collberg has greatness in him. In the meantime, if you really, really like that John Lennon stylistic range, you might likely get some good out of this first album.

Probably the better album though is from an outfit called Ampline out of Cincinnati, a hard charging album of rock guitar instrumentals called Rosary. For whatever reasons, I've rarely been impressed with rock guitar instrumentals. Some vintage surf guitar is good now and again, but even Frank Zappa's highly touted Shut Up and Play Your Guitar albums generally lose me after a few minutes.

The Rosary album definitely hold my attention better than any of Zappa's famous instrumental guitar albums. Most extended rock guitar instrumental music strikes me as lacking form and focus. Even Frank Zappa when he's in that guitar mode is mostly wandering aimlessly. Then there are the pure jack-off guitar shredders, like your Yngwie Malmsteem, and other such pointless athleticism.

Ampline, however, is working here in a fairly high-tone form. They are clearly playing compositions, not just jacking off on some blues scales. There are identifiable song structure elements, themes and thoughtful composition.

Stylistically, this might best be described as some kind of prog rock tradition. I would start to place them somewhere between Rush and King Crimson - but I'm afraid it doesn't sound quite so good if I say it that way. Maybe more than sounding just like either of them, it's that they have a similar high-mindedness.

I don't know that any of these tracks will be long remembered as classics, but they mostly sound pretty good while you're listening to them. Probably my best pick is "Voltaire Hath Spake."

Actually, this song and a couple of others do have a few lines of lyric, but in the mix they're treated like another instrument rather than a lead vocal. It doesn't seem like they're supposed to get special attention. The effect is nearly subliminal enough that it was only after several casual listens to the album did it cross my threshold that there were human vocals.

I also appreciate the brevity of some of their statements. I especially like the opening "Your Tongue or Your Life," and in significant part because it makes its gently chiming point and done in 43 seconds. It's a complete, short musical thought.

Now, I'm not saying that Ampline will make you forget Jimi Hendrix, but if aggressive, ambitiously thoughtful rock guitar instrumental music sounds like your bag, Rosary might hit the spot for you.

posted by Al at 2/05/2007 08:50:00 AM

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