Today’s album is a frenetic blast of guitar fun, written by none other than Ex-Evile guitarist Ol Drake. It’s a joyful, witty celebration of instrumental shred that will…damn it, where did everyone go? I guess that’s what to be expected when instrumental shred comes up though. And can you blame people? It seems when most guitar heroes get the green light to finally shed the burden of sharing the spotlight and release a solo album, they regress to self-involved teenagers. In their amusical sweeps and scale runs best saved for warmups you can hear the kid they were, staring in the mirror with their guitar slung around their knees fantasizing about the day everyone will see how fast they can play and like them. It’s back to the time when those jerks in the band weren’t there to corrupt their musical genius with sell-out nonsense like songwriting and restraint. And much like anything you do alone in your bedroom, there’s a very limited audience for that crap. But shred does have potential, and if a guitarist can put aside all the seriousness and ignore their ego, the results can be listenable, maybe even beautiful and inspiring. There’s a damn good reason the guitar has been the defining instrument of the rock sound for years, and when the right guitarist is given free reign, it becomes abundantly clear. Ol Drake is the right guitarist. On his new album “Old Rake”, Drake shows a deep love and knowledge of music and his instrument, and the ability to make the listener happy as he shares them.
The album is composed of nine songs, and just as many musical styles. Drake takes full advantage of the freedom offered by a solo album to take us on a journey through the music that has inspired him, all while providing his own twist of course. And it’s a journey through diverse territory, covering guitar heroes like Van Halen and organ heroes like Bach. There’s even time for a little folksy chillout session on Karma and pretty ringing harmonic riffs on Emperor. It’s all done tastefully, the genres all recognizable but spiced up with Drake’s stylish playing, feeling like a barnstorming tribute to the musical landmarks in Drake’s life. Think of it as that time your teacher tried to make learning fun, only this time it actually works.
The real selling point of the album is Drake’s playing though. His virtuosity is clear, but there’s a sense of joy and musical inquiry to his work that makes it sparkle. He’s using his skills to push the guitar as not just a lead instrument but as an expressive instrument, in everything from his scorching solos to his soulful melodies. His playing reminds me most of Paul Gilbert’s instrumental albums, not just because of the musical tribute to a certain guitar hero named Edward, but also because of the overall rocking vibe set against bouts of introspective peace. They also share an extensive musical vocabulary, sense of humor and a clear love of what they’re doing that you can almost feel in every note. It’s a rare charm, that of music that doesn’t beg to be taken seriously. It feels like the end product of a desire to share some good music with people who feel the same about it, and assuming that’s Drake’s motivation, his work is a complete success.
Old Rake is a lovingly crafted toast to the music that has shaped one man’s life. A wordless toast of course, but one that gets its message through clearly. Spaceship Janitor is embedded below and the rest of the album is available on Ol Drake’s Bandcamp.