(All Album Reviews by Burgess Penguin)
In a world increasingly populated by "fast guitar shredders" who start to sound indistinguishable after a while, it's refreshing to hear something like Boston-based guitarist Sal DiFusco's Great Exploits that dares to do something a bit different. That is, bring to the arena of guitar based instrumental rock something it has noticeably lacked, namely soul, melody and solid songwriting.
Each song carries beautifully crafted melody lines that cannot be ignored. Better still, the sequence of tunes moves at a brisk pace, there is never a dull or snoozy moment to be found.
And yes, there are more than enough over-the-top pyrotechnics to satisfy any rabid guitar fan, but here's the difference, Sal knows just when to go full-tilt and just as much, when to pull back (something the vast majority of "shredders" have yet to learn) and never lets the fireworks get in the way of a good idea. Better still, Sal has an excellent grasp on the concept of variety within his chosen genre. There's none of the usual "sameness" that seems to plague many outings of this type.
Sal's songs really come to life in the capable hands of ex-Extreme/Steve Vai drummer Mike Mangini and bassist Joe Santerre. They're not just support players, but are a very important part of the music. Mike's brilliant (and all too short) drum solo on "Snowy Day" is a marvel to behold.
Also notable is Sal's guitar tone, nice and throaty, full and meaty as opposed to the usually thin, screechy tone favored by many shredders. One can hear the soaring melodious influence of Jeff Beck and Carlos Santana in these outings, yet Sal is never copycatting either one. He's very much his own man.
The highlights? "Arrows of Victory" is a rousing starter cut. "Don't Open That" is my personal favorite with it's ghostly melody line and relentless 13/8 groove. "My Little Guys" (written for Sal's 2 sons) is a soaring ballad with teeth, something that would do Jeff beck proud. "Groove cakes" and "Take The Land" feature bluesy David Sanborn-esque alto sax from one Pat Loomis. And there's the full-tilt raging metal of "Armed for Battle" that would not only strip paint, but drive away charging horses at 60 paces!
The CD's production is crisp and clean, giving each instrument plenty of breathing room in the mix. Also notable is how Sal and producer Tom Waltz were able to incorporate tasty bits of electronica into the songs without being obnoxious or overpowering.
Trying to strike a balance between over-the top and tasty is never easy, but Sal DiFusco has taken on a formidable challenge and I dare say, succeeded!