Not content with inventing his own musical genres by taking the common building blocks of familiar sounds and fashioning them into new sonic architecture, Garden City is Slang building a whole new world for those sounds to inhabit. It’s a place where “a red river flows through the veins of an enchanted forest” and “through the mist, in the heartland, lays Garden City.” That may seem a bit proggy, but rest assured this isn’t the music of wizards and epic quests, unless the wizards are the musicians making this glorious sound and their quest is a search for the groove.
From the punningly clever title and the vibes emanating from the cover, it is obvious that this is no mere return to the rock based journeys that formed last years Growing Wild. And as I said at the time, even that was a new take on the instrumental rock guitar format, exploring some wonderful musical tangents and meanderings into jazz, blues and funk along the way. This time around Slang takes that musically inquiring mind and deft creativity and visits warmer and more chilled climes and delivers his own unique take on acoustic driven world music.
And the world in question here is one of the eternal beach, of Island life, Carnival, or at least its chilled out after party, and of drinking wine under the Iberian sun. He weaves classical Spanish sounds, Calypso grooves and latin cool together, subtle and supple acoustica cradled in just enough musical accompaniment to act as a cradle around the guitar but never get in the way of the central instrument.
The music is highly evocative, Sunset Siesta paints the sun going down over the Sierra Morena, Pub Street captures all of the hustle and bustle of a busy bar and the to and fro of tourists and socialisers in a vibrant blend of steel drums and flamenco-esque guitarwork and Fading Slowly is lilting, latin and lovely.
If most music relies on the lyrics to get the message across, Slang shows us another way. This really is music paining pictures, setting scenes and describing scenarios, using just a song title and after that using only the music presented here, a series of small films appear, snapshots of journeys have yet to take or wonderful aids to revisit those you have already experienced. As always Slang is a master painter, it is just that his brushes are guitars, his colours are notes and his easel is the listeners imagination. How cool is that?
Often reviewing music can be tricky, particularly when it is hard to find an interesting starting point, when nothing new or interesting is being offered up. Growing Wild presents a challenge for exactly the opposite reason. With so many intriguing musical ideas and genre-hopping approaches going on before your ears it is difficult to know just where to start.
Well, let’s start with three words… Instrumental, guitar and rock. That’s pretty safe ground but the charm of the album comes from the generic paths along which that template is allowed to wander and evolve. This isn’t just the same old Vai-esque hard rock indulgence, this is hard rock given wings and a license to fly. And if you think that the lack of vocals is likely to diminish the appeal of the music, one listen to songs like Buffalo Jump and particularly Backroad Ride where the guitar melody is used like a voice and effected washes take the place of harmony vocals, is enough to set those preconceptions straight.
What this instrumental approach does promote is a less song orientated feel that vocals would demand and a more cinematic journey, one that wanders the dynamic scale from simple emotive blues to soaring progressive rock hypnotics, from the power-pop melodicism of lead single Technicolor to the funky grooves of The North End.
Growing Wild is the Canadian guitarists 6th album, so it is obvious that Slang knows what it’s all about and the ability to take such an established style as hard rock on a journey of exploration through new metal, jazz, blues, funk and pop pastures is obviously why he has maintained such a successful career.