Right from the opening whammy bar outburst of the title track, the album's "live in the studio" feel is apparent. It's a fun, loose recording, and the chemistry between Gradwohl and his trio mates Farid Al-Shami (drums), and Jojo Lackner (bass) is palpable throughout the disc. If I had to label Sally Beth Roe stylistically, "Heavy fusion" would be the best moniker to use, though some tracks are closer to instrumental rock ("Time to Play"), or blues ("Blues For Ben," "Stevie"). Gradwohl seems to shine best on the groove-based fusion material, where he can stretch out harmonically (as a writer and soloist), and lock in with his band for some dynamic group interplay. "Tunnel Elevator" and "Maths" are two great examples of this.
"No Matter" is another standout track that is pure fusion. It features some of Gradwohl's most legato-oriented playing on the album (though he still throws in some insane Gambale-esque sweeps), a nice bass solo from Lackner, and a great memorable melody. Listening to this track and others, it's clear that Gradwohl knows well how to arrange this type of material for a trio setting. His chords are often deployed in short staccato bursts, and there's plenty of doubled lines with the bass. There's a couple of fine ballads on the disc as well - the acoustic and improvisational closer "Joni," and the deliberately paced "Hope" (which is not the Mahavishnu Orchestra piece of the same name, but it seems to take inspiration from some of that band's epic ballads).
Regardless of it's style, every song on Sally Beth Roe is driven by Gradwohl's guitar. Though he's got chops to spare (particularly with his picking), Gradwohl's great strength is how seamlessly he can drop in a cool altered line or triad-based idea in middle of a shred-filled solo. And while he has an original musical voice, he's not afraid to wear his influences on his sleeve either. Pieces like "Maths" and "Viper" have strong shades of post-Tribal Tech Scott Henderson, whereas "Wayne II" owes it's title and inspiration to Wayne Krantz. And like those great players, he's not shy about his tonal choices. Gradwohl favors a heavier rock-oriented tone throughout most of the disc, which he sometimes kicks up a notch by adding over-the-top fuzz effects. It's a very natural tone, however, which enhances the live feel of the entire album.
A lot of great fusion has come out of Europe lately, and Sally Beth Roe is no exception. Definitely recommended.
Gerald Gradwohl Trio - Sally Beth Roe (Gtone)
Gerald Gradwohl - Guitar
Farid Al-Shami - Drums
Jojo Lackner - Bass
1. Sally Beth Roe
2. Tunnel Elevator
3. Joe's Place
4. Blues For Ben
7. Wayne II
8. Time To Play
10. No Matter