The pedal steel guitar. I have no music using this instrument in my (extensive) personal music collection, so this album by Florida-based musician Roosevelt Collier was something of a shot in the dark when I picked it to review.
As an instrument the steel guitar is indelibly linked to country and country-rock music. It is all about the widdling and the wail: would it work in a jazzier context? Well, sort-of. There’s no denying that as a practitioner of his instrument, Collier is highly talented and seems to get sounds out of it - no doubt with support from a great pedal collection - that are worlds apart from your average country single - and, at times, the playing is almost undistinguishable from a conventional jazz and jazz-funk guitar.
Perhaps the downside of this album is that while it is technically very competent and has a number of catchy tunes, the overall sound generated by Collier’s instrument was, for this reviewer anyway, a little too blues-y and tonally and melodically bland; at times - such as on tracks like Make it Alright - the whining of the guitar became a little over-wrought. Many of the tunes, listened to in sequence, blend into each other so that as an album, it felt like a little thin. I felt a little under-whelmed.
Exit 16 is made up of seven tracks of music I’d characterised as funk-jazz (with the emphasis on the former) with strong hints of blues. It’s definitely up-beat - a lot of four-to-the-floor funk drumming from Snarky Puppy’s own JT Thomas, who guests alongside the Puppy’s leader, bassist Michael League - the connection is that Snarky Puppy own and established the Ground Up label which produced and marketed this album. Alongside these two Grammy winners is Bobby Sparks on the organ and clarinet
The album has a funky opening with Sun Up Sun Down, that certainly has a kick-ass feel combined with a strong Stevie Wonder vibe on the clipped organ, over which Collier’s guitar wails and moans. Title track Exit 16 is rockier, grungier, and at the bottom end has a stomp-your-feet feel, with League’s simple, propulsive bass cranking out some fantastically dirty quarter and eighth notes. Thereafter, it’s more of the same and that does mean across the album there’s little sonic variety to leaven the palate. Every track seems carved from the same bluesy granite, and if that dirty southern-state funky steel vibe is what you’re into, then this album is nirvana. But it doesn’t feel particularly ground breaking.
The best track is perhaps Supernatural Encounters, all growly, distorted guitar and an up-beat tempo characterised by JT Thomas’ 4-4 snare drum embellishments.
I gave this album two listens through in full and while it wasn’t an unpleasant experience - as I said, it has it’s moments - at the end of the second run through I didn’t have the feeling this was an album I’d want to return to again and again.
iTunes has ‘Religious’ as the musical genre for this album. I found, however, little revelatory or transcendent. The strongest part of the album perhaps is the backing band, which drops down the funk and blues jazz by the shovel-full, but even the presence of two members of Snarky Puppy can’t propel this album into the troposphere.
One for the purists, perhaps.