Thursday, January 13, 2005
Glass Harp "Strings Attached"
Also posted on Blogcritics:
Other than a certain legendary power trio that will be reuniting shortly, I've always had a huge affection for the legendary Glass Harp. I first made their acquaintance through a Guitar Player interview with Phil Keaggy sometime in the 70s, and was completely wowed when I heard their eponymous first album, with essential tracks such as "Changes" and "Look In The Sky". Glass Harp's original studio canon is difficult to find on CD, commanding premium prices for out-of-print copies. Glass Harp's members have occasionally reunited over the years for various benefit performances, and even mini-tours, and it's obvious listening to its new recordings such as Hourglass and Stark Raving Jams that the fire and passion are still there. However, Glass Harp is a band best heard live, and this album presents them wonderfully in not only a power trio context, but with horns and a full orchestra backing them as well, wonderfully filling out their sound.
Glass Harp's other live recording "Live At Carnegie Hall" is a great historical document of the band during its peak of success, however, like many live recordings of that vintage, the sonics and production don't showcase the band at their best, even though their chops are phenomenal. The Carnegie Hall show features the group's best-known songs, the aforementioned "Changes" and "Look In The Sky", "Do Lord", "Can You See Me", and "Never Is A Long Time". Since Glass Harp was the opening act for the Kinks that evening, they didn't have a chance to really stretch out the way they do on this set, recorded in 2000.
One thing I really love about Phil Keaggy's playing is his very subtle chord and picking style that avoids power trio cliches. He's one of the few players who uses volume swells really effectively (think along the lines of Duane, or Roy Buchanan). Phil's tone is so distinctive, it's hard to even describe, a soft overdriven creamy tone that breaks into warm distortion in swells. It's as distinctive as Santana's, without the brittleness. Some very cool EBow-ing and cool Beatle-esque chords on "Inseparable", as well. "David & Goliath" is a cool instrumental that's sort of an extension of Keaggy's "The Wind And The Wheat" themes and sound into a power trio format.
Naturally, the highlights of this double set include the aforementioned Glass Harp classics, as well as "John The Revelator", from Keaggy's Crimson and Blue album. "John The Revelator" is highly evocative of Cream on this set. It's an interesting contrast with Gov't Mule's version on The Deepest End, which is more of a New Orleans horn band arrangement (Hmm, Keaggy jamming with Warren Haynes, now that's something I'd like to see). Propers should also go to John Sferra and Daniel Pecchio, who form a great rhythm section which sometimes gets a tiny bit overlooked in the attention focused on guitar hero Keaggy. Indeed, Sferra and Pecchio are writers or co-writers of most of Glass Harp's classic originals.
The sonics and recording are quite good for a live recording, and it's a great listen.