Music

Harvey Mandel: Snake Pit

Jedd Beaudoin

Harvey Mandel returns with his first widely-distributed album in roughly 20 years. The record finds him playing with the excitement of a newcomer and is a must-hear effort for six-string enthusiasts.


Harvey Mandel

Snake Pit

Label: Tompkins Square
US Release Date: 2016-11-18
UK Release Date: 2016-11-18
Amazon
iTunes

Harvey Mandel’s story is one of the most intriguing in the world of rock guitar. At 20 he was playing with blues harmonica master Charlie Musselwhite. Later, he joined Canned Heat and, for a time, was pegged as a replacement for Mick Taylor in the Rolling Stones (he appears on the 1976 platter Black and Blue). Mandel employed two-handed tapping in his playing before Edward Van Halen’s “Eruption” became the must-learn piece for guitarists of a certain age. He cut a series of superior solo efforts, including Baby Batter and The Snake, though he never quite broke cult status.

Listening to Snake Pit, his first widely-released effort in 20 years, you realize that Mandel is a true artist: Nothing has dimmed his passion. That’s evident from the first notes of “Snake Pit”, where the guitarist plays with both the fire and wonder of a beginner and the skill of a full-on master. His fat tone and ability to bend and twist melody in directions that beggar belief easily places the tune at the top of the must-hear tracks of 2016, to say nothing of its own place in the artist’s oeuvre. The newcomer receives an excellent introduction to all that Mandel does in his compositions: Traces of blues and boogie swim beside colorful splashes of jazz and melodic runs that nearly break the understanding of the East-West musical axis most mortals have.

Equally fearless is “Space Monkeys”, which lays waste to pretty much everything you’ve ever thought about two-handed tapping. What got lost along the way, through generations of players, was the soul Mandel exhibits when he brings the right hand up to the neck and hammers away with an attack that inspires more than its share of appreciative head nods and wide-eyed glances. The soul that’s evident there is also present on the ballad-ish “NightinGail”.

Mandel’s phrasing is on par with Jeff Beck’s work on classic long-players such as Wired and Blow By Blow as he makes you feel each note and fall into heavy contemplation of the spaces between. You can hear work of a similar quality on “Baby Batter”. Though the guitar tone will perhaps summon comparisons to a bygone era it is firmly and fully something that few players in this day and age hold in their arsenals. “JackHammer” displays more fire and fluidity with some especially lyrical six-string work on the outro.

Though Mandel clearly stands as his own man, one can’t help but draw comparisons between him and another guitar-slinger who rose up in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Roy Buchanan. “Buckaroo” carries the same spare soulfulness as songs heard on the late slinger’s 1972 Polydor debut. Here, the instrument cries, sings, yowls, howls and does all manner of emotive expression while Mandel never loses sight of the tune itself. It is, essentially, a blues number but, as with so much of what this artist has done, that’s not an exact enough designation for the music. Hearing him glide in and around keyboardist Ben Boye’s equally soulful lines may be the “it” moment for this collection, though there are many to choose from.

Even the record’s least impressive composition, “Before Six”, still manages to excite the fur on the back of one’s neck with trademark Mandel-isms flying about. There’s a sense that we’ve heard this before, in the boogie and blues biz of the ‘70s and yet there’s something unfamiliar too, as though we’re catching a glimpse of a style of the future. Though the closing “Ode To B.B.” probably summons ideas about Mandel trying his best to imitate the late King, those ideas are wrong. Instead, Mandel goes for the best parts of his singular style and uses them to elevate the memory and spirit of his apparent hero.

One is tempted to believe that the 71-year-old guitarist must have surely played everything he could on the instrument by the time that number ends. What more could you hear from a player who seems to have put all the passion of a lifetime into these songs. But the faithful listener has been here before: This is how one usually feels at the end of a Mandel record, considering the possibility that there is nowhere else for the instrument or the player to go but knowing that a true giant like this one, a musical seeker like this one, will find a way to prove doubters wrong.

8

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.


20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta


Keep reading... Show less
Film

Hitchcock, 'Psycho', and '78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene'

Alfred Hitchock and Janet Leigh on the set of Psycho (courtesy of Dogwoof)

"... [Psycho] broke every taboo you could possibly think of, it reinvented the language of film and revolutionised what you could do with a story on a very precise level. It also fundamentally and profoundly changed the ritual of movie going," says 78/52 director, Alexandre O. Philippe.

The title of Alexandre O. Philippe's 78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene (2017) denotes the 78 set-ups and the 52 cuts across a full week of shooting for Psycho's (1960) famous shower scene. Known for The People vs. George Lucas (2010), The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus (2012) and Doc of the Dead (2014), Philippe's exploration of a singular moment is a conversational one, featuring interviews with Walter Murch, Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Jamie Lee Curtis, Osgood Perkins, Danny Elfman, Eli Roth, Elijah Wood, Bret Easton Ellis, Karyn Kusama, Neil Marshall, Richard Stanley and Marli Renfro, body double for Janet Leigh.

Keep reading... Show less

Mary Poppins, Mrs. Gamp, Egyptian deities, a Japanese umbrella spirit, and a supporting cast of hundreds of brollies fill Marion Rankine's lively history.

"What can go up a chimney down but can't go down a chimney up?" Marion Rankine begins her wide-ranging survey of the umbrella and its significance with this riddle. It nicely establishes her theme: just as umbrellas undergo, in the everyday use of them, a transformation, so too looking at this familiar, even forgettable object from multiple perspectives transforms our view of it.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Those who regard the reclusive Argerich as one of the world's two or three greatest living pianists—classical or otherwise—would not have left the concert hall disillusioned.

In a staid city like Washington, D.C., too many concert programs still stick to the basics. An endless litany of Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky concerti clog the schedules and parades of overeager virtuosi seem unwilling to vary their repertoire for blasé D.C. concertgoers. But occasionally you encounter a concert that refreshes your perspective of the familiar. The works presented at The Kennedy Center on 25 October 2017 might be stalwarts of 20th century repertoire, but guest conductor Antonio Pappano, leading the Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, reminded us how galvanizing the canonical can still be. Though grandiose executions of Respighi's The Fountains of Rome and The Pines of Rome were the main event, the sold-out crowd gathered to see Martha Argerich perform one of her showpieces, Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto. Those who regard the reclusive Argerich as one of the world's two or three greatest living pianists—classical or otherwise—would not have left the concert hall disillusioned.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image