Keaggy 'Jam' Session a Triumph
By Craig von Buseck
Finally! I have been saying for years that while Phil Keaggy’s studio recordings have been pleasing for the most part, they haven’t captured the energy, complexity, and brilliance of his live instrumental performances. A live Phil Keaggy guitar solo is a truly mind-blowing musical experience. Watching him weave his compositions into a musical tapestry on stage is similar to being invited into the composing studios of some of the great minds in musical history.
It is not too much of a stretch to compare these spontaneous symphonic constructions to other great rock musical masters. One calls to mind a Phil Specter, a Brian Wilson, a Paul McCartney, a Jimi Hendrix, an Elton John, a Billy Joel, or an Eddie Van Halen. But what sets this two-time Dove award winner and Grammy nominee apart from many other guitarist is his mastery of melodic musical structure. Others may have the speed, they may have the licks, but they just don't incorporate the musical melodies into their solos with the same grace and finesse that Keaggy includes on every song -- and he fools us into thinking it's easy.
I own many of Keaggy’s recordings from over the years and I'm always excited when he issues a new instrumental album. While several of his instrumental efforts have displayed true artistic genius – one calls to mind The Master and the Musician, Beyond Nature, or Lights of Madrid – the albums often came across as highly refined studio productions. They never reflected the raw, joyous energy of one of Phil’s live, layered guitar solos.
That is until the release of Jammed!
Phil Keaggy and his producers have finally captured and bottled the live experience in a studio instrumental recording. For years I have wished that Phil and his entourage would carry a digital recording studio with them to every concert so that when his magic emerges they could capture it and release it as a live album. Jammed! feels like the fulfillment of this long anticipated wish.
The first cut, "Route Canal," storms out of the speakers like the opening of a Phil Keaggy concert with full band. If you've ever experienced this live, you know that he likes to open with high energy and a driving beat. Listening to this cut takes me back to the 1981 Keaggy concert (with Second Chapter of Acts) at Rainbow Gardens in my hometown -- an instant musical flashback!
Cut two, "Phlagan's Flow," opens with a grunge guitar -- it could be a session of any garage metal band -- and then suddenly the clear Keaggy lick breaks out of the background. It is a clean, Eddie Van Halen-sounding screaming lead guitar. This sound is more of a rocking groove. It drives, then it pulls back, then it drives forward again.
"Kegworth Speaks" is more laid back. This song has the feel of a jam session in a typical musician's lair. It almost feels like a warm-up song for a rehearsal or for a sound check. It just grooves and sounds fun to play -- and it is fun to listen to. At about three minutes into the song, Keaggy pulls out his signature sound, created from plucking the strings and pulling the volume up and down with his pinky, giving the guitar the sound of an electric violin. It's a wonderful treat, bringing back memories of the incredible jam on his classic song "Time" from the Love Broke Through album.
"Blueberry Jam" takes me back to the late 70s, early 80s era, and Keaggy albums like Emerging, Ph'lip Side, and Town-to-Town. It's a wonderful piece of nostalgic Keaggy, making me feel like I'm at "Jesus '76" all over again!
The wonderful thing about this album is that it is so eclectic. Cut number five is straight out of the house of blues -- and aptly titled, "Zee Blues". I remember watching Sting's Bring on the Night video again and again when it first came out in the mid-80s. My VHS copy actually wore out and I had to go searching for the DVD (which I happily have in my possession). This song has a similar flavor to Sting's "Need Your Love" from that great DVD.
"Sherlock Ohms" starts out so free-floating that it makes you wonder if the musicians weren't tuning up, getting ready for a recording session, and the bass player started a riff, the drummer jumped in and the tape was happily rolling to record it all. It's very loose -- it sounds and feels like they're just hanging out in Phil's recording studio with the cold drinks leaving marks on the wooden furniture as the condensation drips off the side (no coasters, of course).
Jammed! includes re-mixes and new arrangements of songs from Premium Jams, as well as 3 brand new songs! (12 songs total) -- and it covers the genres of Rock, Blues, and Funk, with elements of Fusion and Jazz.
Another treat on Jammed! are the production notes penned by Phil himself sharing his thoughts and the personal stories behind each of these tracks, giving you an inside look at this virtuoso and his boundless mastery of the guitar.
The album also features many of Keaggy's longtime friends and collaborators -- all of whom are renowned musicians in their own right-including drummer Keith Carlock (Sting, Steely Dan), former WhiteHeart bassist Anthony Salee, BlackHawk drummer Mike Radovsky, bassist Spencer Campbell (Amy Grant, Kenny Rogers) and drummer John Sferra, who co-founded the legendary band Glass Harp with Phil Keaggy in 1970.
Phil Keaggy co-produced the project along with Bill Deaton (Alan Jackson, Keith Urban, Michael W. Smith) and Lynn Nichols (Newsboys, Shaun Groves, Twila Paris).
At a time when other rockers from the 60s, 70s, and 80s are starting to slow down in their production of new music, Phil Keaggy continues to churn it out -- and it just keeps getting better and better.
If you like Phil Keaggy, you're going to love this album. If you like rock instrumental guitar, you need to add this CD to your collection. If you like musical art, you will find it on Phil Keaggy's Jammed! -- a musical treat that is destined to become a classic.
Jammed by Phil Keaggy
Craig von Buseck is Ministries Director for CBN.com. Send him your e-mail comments on this review.
More from Craig von Buseck on CBN.com
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