This is the album I've been waiting for, something new to fill in the space between repeated plays of Ken Navarro's last two brilliant releases. I expected it to come from Craig Chaquico, Steve Oliver, or Acoustic Alchemy but instead it came totally out of left field, delivered by an artist who shows up in a Google search less times than I do in spite of releasing multiple albums and having a career that goes back to the mid-80s. So who is Will Sumner? He's a guitarist who spent a long time in Minneapolis/St. Paul and seems to be in San Diego now. His bio says he has a huge local following. There is a YouTube video of his 80's fusion band covering a Casiopea song. That's a language fusion babies like me have in common. It's probably why it was love at first hear when I got a single from him back in the late 90's that was just as unassumingly packaged as this CD is. He deserves a huge national following. What he has done on Tracks
is deliver a completely original and uncompromised collection that sounds like it is influenced by some of my favorite guitarists but is never imitative or derivative.
It took me a week to get past the first track, "Samba At The Six," which instantly establishes the vibe for the tracks to come. The aging player in my car got so tired of me hitting repeat that it would randomly spit the CD out after multiple plays. It kicks in with a driving chord progression over Latin percussion before a haunting lead melody comes in and repeats its way into your head. It reminds me of the chord progression at the end of CSN's "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" channeled and expanded by Acoustic Alchemy with a salsa band in the wings as Sumner plays it fluid and fearless. Then listen to him trading speedy licks with himself on electric and acoustic guitars during "A Night Down South" without overwhelming the melody with pyrotechnics. A lot of these songs are deceptively mellow. They start out gently but the layers of texture and complex guitar lines take them far beyond the borders of standard smooth. The melodies are fascinating too, because they have a lot of twists and turns but remain catchy and familiar sounding.
Although the guitar is his primary instrument he is an equally gifted keyboard player. His piano solos on "The Lake" are as fluid and shimmering as the title implies and like his "should-be-a-star" counterpart Patrick Bradley, who I reviewed last month, he plays chords and notes clearly without that hesitant touch that has become a smooth jazz trademark. Then there is "Heart Strings," my other favorite on this collection of songs that could all be favorites. It's an electric guitar power ballad that builds just like electric guitar power ballads are supposed to as it climbs a series of key changes and bending strings to the stratosphere (or Stratocaster maybe?) This could be classic Jeff Beck or fired up Jeff Golub. It is completely hypnotic.
I love recommendation chains. A person can spend hours tracing "if you like" links from artist to artist all over iTunes, Amazon, Pandora and Last FM. I'll save you the time. If you enjoy Acoustic Alchemy, Steve Oliver, Craig Chaquico, and Russ Freeman and a big infusion of Latin rhythms buzzes you this is an absolute must-buy. Don't wait. Don't think. Don't even listen to samples because these songs can not be summarized in 30 second clips. Just click that buy button and there you have it – a bright, breezy soundtrack for this summer and seasons beyond.