Roy . . . Boy! Here he is about to put out a brand new record, and this recalcitrant is just now getting around to reviewing his last one. I’m sorry to all real slide guitar junkies, but you’ve probably already heard this and know how good this is. I played it a lot, I really did. I put this CD in my car player and decided to take a little mosey, and soon I was winding through the very mountain ranges where Rogers was born. And I suspect I know where he got his inspiration, because all you have to do is careen for thousands of precipitous miles around the switchbacks, swing around the curves, and then power straight on through the slide zones. And that’s how some musicians kick in to a piece of music, they edge in slideways.
For those who don’t know, Roy Rogers is a master of technique when it comes to all things slide. If he was ever a show off, like the kind of kid who jumps off the steel bridge into the fast moving icy mountain river far, far below, that’s Roy on this record. Or maybe more like the other kid, who strung a lumberjack’s steel cable and log pully hook far up the steep hillside and across the river. All to travel at increasing acceleration before dropping off to knife into a deep section. This sounds a little dangerous.
Slideways is a captivating selection of instrumental grooves, all composed by Rogers, all with many fine shadings, and nothing if not innovative. While slide guitar may have been invented to imitate the human voice, here you listen only to the voice of the slide. Lots of polished, smooth sustain and a heavy touch when the long slow notes call for it. Every conceivable technique is here, from the slash to the quiver, to the bouncing staccato notes. From the heavy metal attack to the sexy quaver, Rogers is floating, jumping, and diving with graceful finesse. There are timely buzzes, rattles, and squeals just like when I walked into that rattlesnake on the trail last week. This guy sounds a little dangerous.
“Avalanche” gets things rocking big, a sweaty fast-moving and wild sonic landscape alive with surprising and unpredictable frenzied movement. Every piece has an individual mood and familiar geography all etched in well-articulated steel. From the slightly sinister mystery of “Razor’s Edge” to the bouncing “Duckwalk”, a tribute to Mr. Charles Berry, and on into steamier sounds of “Swamp Dream” and “Gumbo Funk”. Drums are pounded by Scotty Mathews, harmonica by Norton Buffalo, and more good surprises than almost any heart can stand.
Rogers also invited the recognized master of second-line drumming, the one who originally powered the Meters, to stamp some syncopation into several tunes. Here, Zigaboo Modeliste links his percussion with Roger’s playing, and together they create the strut and joyful springiness of “Crescent Steps”, an aural delight that can put you in the mood for going just about anywhere. And, if that weren’t unbelievable enough, Rogers got Freddie Roulette into the studio for several tracks. Listen to Roulette’s brilliant lapslide, creating tonal backdrops before unrolling a dazzling landscape with his inimitable solos on “No Destination”. The mood of the whole piece combines into that sense of unbelievable freedom, an easy-going feeling of no particular place to go.
Slideways, Roger’s first all-instrumental album, is a good place to start if you want to hear some of the most creative electric slide guitar. Though I’m willing to bet that won’t be the stopping place because you’ll just want to sample more of Roy Rogers and his amazing technical prowess. That means soaking up some more with his older catalog, like Slidewinder or Slide Zone, until Roots of Our Nature, that’s his next one, comes out.
// Notes from the Road
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