REVIEW: PAUL GILBERT – “Werewolves Of Portland”
Every now and again, I’m presented with an album by someone I’ve heard of my whole life but never really gave any time to. Paul Gilbert is one such case and after listening to Werewolves of Portland I’m completely baffled as to why! This album in particular has the kind of chemistry that would result from a freaky fusion of Queen, Yes, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Rush, Jimi Hendrix, Van Halen, and an unending cavalcade of luminaries.
What’s even stranger is that it took me a few listens to REALLY get into it which was surprising as I’m a big fan of progressive rock so I guess I’m walking away from this album stripped of my assumed smugness that I know a lot about the genre as, apparently, I’ve been missing out on a powerhouse of an artist for my existence.
Okay so that might be a bit melodramatic a statement but it’s also a bit of a revelation to have your view of a genre turned on its head with a mix of familiar ideas executed in a way that is so fresh. Beginning with the track “Hello! North Dakota!”, you instantly get an idea of what’s to come with a MASSIVE Brian May-like chorus of harmonic guitars that launch into a constant progression of connecting riffs and motifs that, while numerous, don’t ever feel like a riff sandwich. This continues into “My Goodness” and suddenly focuses on “Werewolves of Portland” with a lovely ode to Rush type of vibe going on that drops out occasionally to blues solos that drip with soul with howling guitars that bring the groove back.
Each track has some type of Rubix cube type combination of elements firing that it’s easy to get lost in what’s happening but at the same time feeling a linear progression mood and emotion between the highs, lows, tempo, and mode changes. To call the album an immense listen isn’t an understatement even 5 songs in, try and tell me the track “Arguments about Pie” isn’t one of the most dramatic and fun songs you’ve ever heard. After the full 10 tracks, it’s easy to just let it replay from the start as I’m doing again as I write this.
While well known for his guitar virtuosity, Gilbert played all instruments on Werewolves of Portland and expertly at that! From what I understand, the entire production came from his hand which lends to the eclectic nature of the songwriting and tones used.
For the most part, the production is pristine and reminiscent of the late 80’s SSL type-sound. Every instrument is clear and has a specific place in the mix with a myriad of classic effects and tones being employed such as Vox or Marshall type amplification and guitars bathed in reverb, delays, chorus, phasers as well as other various finger tricks like tapping and harmonic pinches. It’s a timeless type of sound that isn’t overproduced but not one that is hugely common these days.
A good way to summarise is; the production is full of virtuosity on all fronts but has a lack of any mechanical-like qualities. It makes Werewolves of Portland a heartfelt and human record where proof of this can be found in the video clip for the title track featuring Gilbert and his son dressed as werewolves chasing each other around and having fun.
A peculiar aspect of the album that will go missed by digital-only listeners is; the songs actually have lyrics, they’re in the album booklet. Now there’s an odd one for an instrumental album!
I went into this album expecting to hear a lot of cool stuff but I didn’t expect my ears to be opened so much to so many different facets of what music could be and it’s an exciting feeling! It also makes me hungrier than I already was to experience and document music as I come across it and as a hack writer that does this for fun it’s quite a refreshing experience that usually takes a full band and production team to get close to. To have one dude do it, damn! This album is definitely going in my vinyl collection and at a minimum, I’d heavily encourage you to give it a go.