UPDATE 10/19/07: I've republished my review below
Dog House (Unfretted Records) is fretless-guitar whiz Ed DeGenaro's latest release. Though he plays plenty of fretted guitar as well, DeGenaro is one of the finest and most popular players on the fretless scene today. He appeared front and center on 2005's Village Of The Unfretted double-CD compilation (also on Unfretted Records), and performed at last year's Fretless Guitar Festival in New York.
In addition to his previous solo recordings, DeGenaro has done quite a bit of session work for commercials, television shows, and movies. DeGenaro describes himself as a fusion player, and the music on Dog House lives up to the purest definition of that label. Country, jazz, reggae, funk, rock, blues, Latin music - DeGenaro touches on all these styles and more on Dog House, often mixing several styles within the same song. As a result, this album comes across like a stream of DeGenaro's musical consciousness. That impression is heightened by the fact the entire CD is presented with no gaps between the tracks - each song flows directly into the next.
DeGenaro used a vast array of guitars on Dog House including fretted and unfretted electrics (6, 7, and 8 string), classical and steel-string acoustics, slide, lap steel, etc. There's also a fair amount of guitar-synth on the album, which DeGenaro used to trigger saxophone, flute, and other assorted samples. There are some vocal samples sprinkled throughout as well, though Dog House is essentially an instrumental album.
Listen to enough fretless guitar players and you'll quickly realize there's a fine line between making music on the instrument, and making an abominable mess on it. Mastering the subtleties in pitch and inflection a fretless guitar allows for is obviously a difficult thing to do, but DeGenaro has done it. Although he's a great player on standard fretted guitars as well, DeGenaro seems more expressive on a fretless. And with or without frets, DeGenaro can flat-out shred. Using highly developed picking and legato techniques, his cascading runs of varied note-groupings are often reminiscent of the late Shawn Lane.
Dog House features a whopping 18 tracks, and there are many highlights. After starting off with the country-flavored "Twang This" and "Teutonic Hellbelly," DeGenaro gives us the album's first fretless showcase - "Fretless In Seattle." Often evoking a violin or pedal steel guitar, DeGenaro's melodic phrasing on this song shows what a uniquely lyrical instrument the fretless guitar can be in the hands of someone who knows what they're doing.
More great fretless work can be heard on "Joe Z"; an obvious nod to Weather Report founder Joe Zawinul. "La Mer" is another highlight. DeGenaro plays some great Django-esque runs on this track. Songs like "SFW," "North Coast," "Hoppier Than Thou," and "Hip To Hop" (which differs from DeGenaro's Village Of The Unfretted version of the same song) are closer to what most people consider fusion. These are grooving jazz-rock songs that give DeGenaro a chance to really blow. "SFW" and "North Coast" feature some particularly wild playing.
The chops highlight of the album though is "Charlie Parker Goes Heavy Metal." This is an insane solo-guitar shred showcase, featuring a harmonizer and plenty of edits. There are definite shades of Shawn Lane on this piece. In contrast to that track's electric madness is the great acoustic work on Dog House, including the Bireli Lagrene composition "Acoustic Moments," and a fine instrumental version of the Steely Dan classic "Aja."
The common denominator throughout this diverse recording is DeGenaro's great playing. He brings an obvious familiarity to whatever style he happens to be working in, and his great chops are always in tow. That's true whether there are frets present or not, but his fretless playing on Dog House really shines. By using the fretless so effectively in a such a wide variety of settings, DeGenaro really champions the instrument with this album. If you have any interest in fretless at all, or just want to hear a fine guitarist at work, pick up Dog House.
Ed DeGenaro - Dog House (Unfretted Records)
Ed DeGenaro - Guitars
Fritz Wolf - Drums
Orlando Marin - Bass
Satish - Slide Trumpet
Anton Pukshansky - Keyboards, bass on track 2
Matthew Burgess - Percussion
Chris Taylor - Keyboards, Programming, Additional Guitars on Track 4
Trip Walmsley - Bass on Track 7
1. Twang This (E. DeGenaro)
2. Teutonic Hellbelly (E. DeGenaro)
3. Fretless in Seattle (E. DeGenaro)
4. Joe Z (C.Taylor)
5. Jamaican Sunsets (E. DeGenaro)
6. Aja (D. Fagan / W. Becker)
7. Some Cow Phunk (E. DeGenaro)
8. Acoustic Moments (R.Lagrene)
9. Angelina (T. Emmanuel)
10. SFW (E. DeGenaro)
11. Ballad of Heidi (J. Strunz)
12. Hip to Hop (E. DeGenaro)
13. La Mer (C. Trenet)
14. North Coast (E. DeGenaro)
15. Charlie Parker Goes Heavy Metal (U. Wakenius)
16. Hoppier Than Thou (E. DeGenaro)
17. Three Views of a Secret (J. F. Pastorious)
18. That's All Folks (E. DeGenaro)