Home Albums Album Review : Joe Satriani – ‘Shapeshifting’

Album Review : Joe Satriani – ‘Shapeshifting’

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Some people are born to lead and some are born to follow. Joe Satriani most definitely falls into the first category and his unique and inspirational playing has been breaking ground since the seismic arrival of the sophomore ‘Surfing With The Alien’ in 1987. Now on his 17th solo album, we see a guitar player who is still very much in love with his craft and is constantly pushing forward whilst giving the occasional tip of the hat in tribute to past influences.

Shapeshifting’ is a masterful album and shows Satriani at his absolute best, the release filled with jaw dropping invention, passion, soul and feel very much to the fore.

Kicking off with the title track, its big rolling groove and choppy guitarwork mixes classic hard rock with dashes of a jazzy vibe as if Jimmy Page, Eddie Van Halen and John Schofield were jamming together. Never flash but always inventive, Satriani is beautifully fluid and the compositions really speak for themselves as he gives each one the space to breathe.

Joe Satriani by Joseph Cultice (3)

Following that is the huge fun of ‘Big Distortion’, packing in glam spangled bubblegum rock in giant slabs before it takes off for a soaring solo. The deliciously smooth and atmospheric ‘All For Love’ goes a different route, this switch in styles seamless rather than jarring as the quicksilver fretwork just seems to pour out of the guitarist’s fingers like fresh cream from a jug.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qR3YVH-cldU&w=560&h=315]

Elsewhere, sunny African rhythms, surf guitar and futuristic motifs come together in ‘Ali Farka, Dick Dale, An Alien and Me’ and it really shouldn’t work but somehow it does, beautifully pulling these disparate elements together into one intriguing, ever-changing, whole.

From the beautifully sparse and precise ‘Teardrops’ through to the upbeat ‘Perfect Dust’, Satch does what he does best and really puts the melody at the centre of his compositions. Always working with or surrounding himself by some of the best in the business means that there is a cohesion in all his output, whether playing alongside Jagger, Deep Purple and Chickenfoot or his own prodigious solo career.

Joe Satriani by Joseph Cultice (4)

Whilst some in the same league may rest on their laurels, providing material that just goes through the motions or, conversely, get overwhelmed with self-importance and overindulgence, Satriani is very much a team player as well as a leader. This ethos echoes throughout ‘Shapeshifter’, the core players of Chris Chaney (bass/guitar), Eric Caudieux (keys), Kenny Aronoff (drums) and Jim Scott (percussion/production) very much making their mark and complimenting the master six stringer.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xSayYNy28TA&w=560&h=315]

Ever changing moods are the theme of the album as `Nineteen Eighty’ rocks hard, packed with melody and fire, ‘All My Friends Are Here’ glories in a cascading riff that then spirals into spectacular shapes, the aural equivalent of a technicolour firework display with all the jaw dropping impact and it’s back to fretboard scorching with the propulsive ‘Spirits, Ghosts and Outlaws’.

Joe Satriani by Joseph Cultice (5a)

Of all the tracks on the album, it seems like Satriani has managed to pack everything into the standout ‘Falling Stars’ as it switches between the thoughtful and exotically beautiful mood, suddenly taking off into a display of blistering intensity before settling back again. ‘Waiting’ is also wistful, its gentle piano and percussion adding wonderfully subtle colours before the reggae soaked ‘Here the Blue River’ throws a real curveball into the mix.

The album ends on the delightfully down home ‘Yesterday’s Yesterday’, a track you can image they wrote and recorded sitting on porches sipping moonshine. Featuring a guest appearance by Spinal Tapper and Saturday Night Live royalty Christopher Guest on mandolin, this relaxed, charming and lightly joyous track ends the album perfectly as it plays like a campfire song with golden touches by mid period Beatles.

The best thing Satriani has released? Possibly. What is beyond debate is that ‘Shapeshifting’ shows a world class musician having fun and once more, still leading the pack. A truly essential purchase.

Review by Paul Monkhouse for MPM

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