The Manhattan Blues Project - Steve Hunter
With 'The Manhattan Blues Project' legendary guitarist Steve Hunter has embraced the new technology and recording methods that would have been unimaginable back in the 70s while playing with the likes of Alice Cooper and Lou Reed. Back then you signed to a record label who financed the recording and, in many cases, they owned it outright. Nowadays it's very different. Most major record labels have little interest in music as anything more then a commodity. Something they can package and sell quickly before moving on to the next teenage pin-up or American Idol wannabe. Steve is neither of these. He is a musician who has spent his life mastering his craft to a degree these youngsters will likely never reach.
However there are certainly upsides to the new situation. Now true musicians can have complete control over what they want to create. They can, if they so wish, record it themselves without the need for expensive studios, or even outside input at all. They can write and release whatever they want in whatever form they prefer. What they can't be assured of though is making any money from it.
Then along came Kickstarter and similar sites, where an artist could actually ask their own fan base to finance a project. If enough people were interested and pledged money then they would be able to create, safe in the knowledge that the project wouldn`t bankrupt them. If they didn't hit the target amount they still had the choice of whether to carry on, or maybe try something different. It put a certain amount of power into the hands of both the musician AND their fan base. You want it? Then help pay for it and in doing so help support true artists, like Steve.
All this is just a little background to the album in front of me. This is an album that, without the current technology, internet and kickstarter may never have seen the light of day. It's not as if Steve couldn't have made a good living out of sessions and guest appearances. He didn't HAVE to make new music under his own name, but maybe he NEEDED to do it. A great musician doesn't make music because they have to, but because they have a need to express themselves and create.
With 'The Manhattan Blues Project' Steve Hunter pours his heart out through his guitar. It's not flash and loud like most guitar albums these days but subtle and heartfelt. It's not about how many notes you can play but how you play them, and few play them as well as 'The Deacon'.
This is not a straight ahead blues album. It's an album of melodies which create moods both uplifting and melancholy.
The album opens with the sounds you would maybe hear out of a Manhattan window on a rainy day and you get the picture in your mind of Steve sitting, guitar in hand, at the window playing. It has a slight Floydian feel to my ears as many tracks do.
'222 W. 23rd' is a shuffle and features a tasteful slide solo by guest Michael Lee Firkins as well as a whispering Tommy Henriksen while 'Gramercy Park' (actually named after a small private park in Manhattan) brings visions of a Hawaiian sunset beach with the way Steve bends the notes, the ethereal backing vocals and the sound of what could almost be jungle insects in the background.
'A Night At The Waldorf' could be the music to accompany a trip to that famous hotel, maybe walking through the streets of Manhattan to see a show. Again it kinda reminds me of a few early Pink Floyd songs in it's understated swagger.
'Salisbury Hill' is of course instantly recognisable, Steve taking the vocal melody and transposing it to acoustic guitar. He, of course, played on the original and journeyman bassist Tony Levin (King Crimson, Welcome To My Nightmare) adds some bass, just as he did back in 1977.
'Daydream By The Hudson' is a short piece that features the work of Steve's good friend Jason Becker. If you don't know about Jason I urge you to see 'Not Dead Yet: The Jason Becker Story'. The man is inspirational, and Steve is also featured in the film.
'Flames At The Dakota' refers to the famous apartment building in Manhattan that boasted some very famous residents over it's history but is probably most famous for being the location John Lennon was murdered. Again the music creates pictures in your mind with it's smooth guitar lines. Again Karen Hunters voice is used as more as another instrument to create the atmosphere.
'The Brooklyn Shuffle' is the most up tempo track on the album and the one that is likely to get the most attention as it's where two of the really heavy hitting guests appear. First up is Johnny Depp, probably one of the most famous people in the world right now, and then you have Aerosmith legend Joe Perry providing the second solo. The whole thing feels like the guys just happened to meet in a Manhattan bar and the song is basically just a 2-bar jam with the three taking turns to solo.
'What's Going On' is a Marvin Gaye tune, but not being familiar with the original it works just fine as another mood piece highlighting Steve's control over notes and phrasing.
'Ground Zero's inspiration is obvious from the title and serves as a quite interlude before the music picks up again for a stroll through Harlem in the early evening. 'Twilight In Harlem' features the superhuman guitars of Joe Satriani and Marty Friedman. All through the album there have been little hints of progressive rock greats like Genesis and Floyd and no where more then the midsection of this, probably predictably my favourite track on the album. The contrast of Steve's laid back melodic style and the frenetic Satch and Friedman give's the song a dynamic not present elsewhere. I would love Steve's next album, should there be one, to go further down this path.
Finally we fittingly close with the sound of crickets while watching the 'Sunset Over Central Park'. Again it's hard not to reference Floyd (this is not a bad thing!) in the way the guitar lines move through the chord changes to create a hazy afternoon scene before the 2Cello's bring the record to a close.
Most people reading this will likely be hard rock fans, this is after all an Alice Cooper site. This album is not a hard rock record. It's generally laid back and relaxing rather then in your face, and as an instrumental album it again my not be to everyone's taste. But if you appreciate an artist in complete control of his art then you shouldn't miss the chance to hear Steve at his best. The production throughout is flawless (it's obviously helps to have worked extensively from the very best, Bob Ezrin) and the whole package is extremely well put together. It's an album Steve should be extremely proud of and we should all be thankful to the fans who pledge their cash via Kickstarter to allow it to be made.