Todd Grubbs certainly must have a lot of musician friends in high places! His latest and fourth studio album features a whole host of guest performers, including Derek Sherinian of ex-Dream Theater fame as well as Don Preston (ex-Mothers of Invention, among others), Chris Poland (ex-Megadeth) and many more. Perhaps not exactly the most high-profile of guesting lists, but for a self-financed and self-produced record, this is certainly well above the norm and gives a hint that quite a lot of love and effort must have gone into the creation of Time, Space and the Electric.
After a short, atmospheric intro, Todd launches straight into the rocking “Thank You, Mr.Maniac”. While not as frenetic as the title might suggest, it is a fine mid-tempo piece that features a surprise mandolin section midway. Todd Grubb's main influences are definitely to be found in the metal world, but (luckily) he is far from a Petrucci or Malmsteen cut-out. Much like Vai and Satriani, his songs centre around a steady main groove over which his clean but toothy guitar weaves a melody or solo (as opposed to the more composition-centred approach of Morse or Howe, for instance). However, thanks to the guest appearances on keys, nice variations within most of the pieces and some intelligently employed samples, I find this album to be a lot more enjoyable that most of either Vai's or Satriani's output. Sure, Todd Grubbs can't quite meet them eye-to-eye in the chops department, but he makes up for it with an extra portion of musical inventiveness.
There is a good blend of slower, atmospheric songs and up-tempo rockers on this disc. For instance, the spacey “Dreaming Aboard an Alien Aircraft” (at 7 minutes the longest song) starts out with a slow, almost industrial beat but then quickly morphs into a Pink Floyd-style laid back and very 'spaceous' affair before ending on a punchy, angular and quite heavy note. Other songs are almost ethereal in their quality, relying on restrained solo guitar and nice acoustic backings with wind chime effects, sea shore sounds, babbling babies - to the point where you almost expect Jon Anderson to start singing about a river over a mountain (“Edith”, “The Ballad of Emy and LU”).
Todd's heavier side shines through on several songs, especially the crunchy closer. Some great synth soloing and piano work by Sherinian add an extra flavour to the usually quite confined palette of the guitar album, as do the sparingly but effectively used vocalizations (“The Electric Life”). Todd himself uses guitar effects with excellent results on a number of tracks - the delightful 'WahWah/talkbox' solo on “The Argument” adds a great twist to an otherwise basic rocker.
Todd's guitar style straddles the (somewhat academic) gap that seems to have been drawn between heavy metal 'shredders' and more stylistically inclined guitarists of the jazz and fusion world. People with an allergy to shredding need not fear - Todd restrains his ample chops admirably on this disc - and when I mention that there is virtually no tapping to be heard, I'm sure some will sigh a breath of relief.
If there is one major weakness, it is that none of the songs individually stand out - there are no immediately arresting hooks or riffs. That being said - and taking into account that Todd Grubbs is certainly not trying to revolutionize the instrumental guitar album - he has produced a very solid disc.
Whatever their preferences, guitar aficionados and casual followers of instrumental music should find plenty to savour here.