In the hands of Adrian Legg, the guitar's limitations melt away, and in his mind, the music flourishes.
On a recent U.S. jaunt, English guitarist Adrian Legg said that he hoped an album title like Dead Bankers would appease the most people. Truth be told, he could have named it anything and people would still like it. There are two reasons I make a blanket statement like this. First, it's been a good 10 years since Leggheads have had an album from the man that was predominantly made of new material. Secondly, because Legg is a world class musician with a gift for intuitive composition that the world could use a second and third helping of already. He could have called this new album Banker's Vomit, its power would and could never be diminished.
Only one of the 13 tracks has been featured on a past Legg release. "A Waltz for Leah" appeared on both 2004's Inheritance and its 2011 follow-up Slow Guitar. On Dead Bankers, this tender dance number written for his granddaughter sports a slow and steady introduction where Legg truncates the melody to a lower register before summoning the high notes 48 seconds into the piece. The overcast blues number "The Oily Gull" began life as a ensemble piece with Brian Gore, Marco Pereira and Lulo Reinhardt (Django's grand-nephew) on the summit release International Guitar Night VI. The sad bounce of the small, unassuming "Gas Bill" has origins early in Legg's musical career and is finally captured for everyone to hear (named for what Legg's first royalty check for the composition covered).
Adrian Legg's guitar technique remains as rock-solid now as before his Relativity Records days. A record like Technopicker may have been flashier, but Dead Bankers has different priorities. He still bends notes with alarming ease, as he does on the English-twang of "The Doorbell Song", and he still fiddles with his tuning pegs in mid-song as on "Paddy on a Train" and the opening title track. It's a testament to Legg's subtlety that these tricks come across more musically than they do technically. Then again, that's a complaint Leggheads have never registered. "Marco's Bounce", the most Atkins-ey thing on Dead Bankers besides "Gas Bill", plays it nice and cool. And it helps that the heavily distorted brethren boogies of "Buffalo Bayou (A Nasty Incident In Montrose)" and "Toot Toot (A Nasty Incident In Montrose)" don't take themselves too seriously. But in all seriousness, Montrose must be a dangerous place to hang out.
And the guitarist's soft spots continue to glow 37 years (or however long it's been) after making his first record. The melody of "The Rural Bus" rolls around as if gently cradled in cupped hands and the soft soar to an Indian-Irish lovechild "Siobhan Kapoor" is one of the most elegant moments on Dead Bankers. And that's saying quite a bit. In the current entertainment landscape or whatever passes for it these days, new albums from artists like Legg are becoming rarer. I'm tempted to say that Dead Bankers was worth the 10 year wait, but that would be like admitting that such a wait is optimal. We deserve better than that. We deserve more Dead Bankers. Just don't take that sentence out of context.