BLINK OF AN EYE
Talk about guitar sustain.
Joe Cefalu released his last instrumental album, “Fear Itself,” in 2008. It’s as if that record never ended — and got even better. Fans of ’80s/early '90s-era Joe Satriani and Eric Johnson will find plenty to like about songs such as “Yucca Flats,” a brief, elegant beauty opened by a lush distortion attack that makes the hair on your neck stand up. Another standout, “Palookaville,” is cut from the same epic guitar-hero cloth, except sassier and cloud-scraping.
Cefalu has his own tone, and his playing isn’t just clean and diverse; he’s also a gifted composer. It makes his melodic flurries palatable to more than just slack-jawed guitar-shred junkies. On opening track “Neck Deep in Dark Water,” he manages to craft a memorable riff that also curls the lip.
Bottom line: Cefalu, who owns River City Guitars in Downtown Boise, is a big-time player — the sort of guy with a lesson on YouTube that has 1.3 million views and counting.
Blond hair flowing, fingers tearing through a Trey Anastasio-like guitar solo, Jeff Crosby cuts a striking figure fronting Boise jam band Equaleyes.
The Crosby on this solo album is a quieter man, a singer-songwriter content with an acoustic guitar and perhaps a pretty girl to sing to. (“I held a picture of her naked in my head, because everything about her’s so smooth and innocent,” he confesses on the folky “Anything That I Could Do.”)
Crosby exits James Taylorville occasionally. The bluesy “Love Will Let You Know” is a soulful keeper, laced with tasteful electric-guitar licks and restrained organ flourishes — something John Mayer might dig. And “Sound of the Rain” has an old-school, alt-rocking, R.E.M. quality to it.
As Equaleyes fans know, Crosby sets the bar high just by being himself. He looks the part, he sings well and he knows his way around a fretboard. He just doesn’t showcase his rocking side as overtly as some might have hoped on this solo excursion.
THE BRIAN BATEMAN BLEND
The Brian Bateman Blend
With tales of family alcoholism and ugly breakups, the Brian Bateman Blend doesn’t gloss over the pain of the world.
Beneath the surface, there’s an intensity about the group’s pop-rock storytelling, dominated by Bateman’s forceful vocal calisthenics. On the hard-charging "Abandon," it feels a little bit like the band can't keep up with Bateman's suffering.
The tone softens as the group dabbles in various influences (hence, the “Blend.”) Those range from Johnny Cash-style country to blues and beyond. “Brand New Future Ex” sounds like a lost Junior Brown tune. Is “personal goth” a genre? It might be if you count the subject matter of haunting, piano-fueled “The Dark,” the album’s most affecting, impressive track.
DREAMS OF THE DYING, LIGHT OF THE LIVING
Spooky theremin sets the tone right out of the gate for trippy, noise rock-influenced group Jumping Sharks, who describe their sound as desert music.
That sort of makes sense: A flickering campfire and a peyote experience with Jim Morrison’s ghost could inspire a stomping song such as the organ-and-ax-driven “Sociopaths.”
Between seizures of weirdness, Jumping Sharks float in and out of psychedelic- and jam-band territory; the soft interplay between guitar and piano rescues “Bullies” from its otherwise eccentric demeanor. And sky-splitting guitar hits stratospheric levels on the instrumental freakout/standout “Pompeii Tsunami.”
This quirky approach can be fun, but it can wear thin, too. Mainstream listeners will find the group’s grungy delivery — and the singing of frontman Zane Norsworthy — to be an acquired taste. Plus, chord progressions and lyrics occasionally feel repetitious on tunes such as “Passing Ships” and the title track.
A LITTLE SOMETHING STRONGER THAN WINE
Jonathan Warren and the BillyGoats
A staple of Downtown Boise’s music scene, Jonathan Warren and the BillyGoats generate a vibe they call “progressive psychobilly folk grass.” Translation: It’s a group fond of string instruments and harmonies.
The transition from stage to CD can be tricky for a card-carrying bar band, but it mostly works here. Percussion, violin and mandolin — arguably the group’s defining instrument — sound tight, clean and vibrant. Warren’s warm voice is homey and reassuring (though not always pitch-perfect, which is noticeable on “Don Quixote” and “Dresser Drawer.”)
You can’t help but stomp and sing along with energetic standout “Sara Jean” or fan favorite “Boise, Idaho.” Or just kick back and enjoy the wistful prettiness of “Recollections.” There’s also production creativity: A reverberating voice from afar is a surprising touch during “Who Really Knows,” and Warren’s vocals get a transistor radio treatment during the beginning of “Worn Out Shoes.”