Sound: Although Jeff Beck has been somewhat of recluse through the years -- often taking extremely lengthy breaks in between each record -- it does seem that we're currently living in a period in which the legendary guitarist's popularity is on the rise again. Beck reemerged in 2007 with a tremendous live performance captured in the new CD Live At Ronnie Scott's, and there are quite a few artists in the musical community that want to make sure that the former Yardbirds' material continues to be given the credit it's due. Guitarist/composer Brian Tarquin is the brains behind El Becko: A Jeff Beck Salute, which covers a good deal of Beck's most iconic pieces with a twist. While some of the songs are tackled in a fairly traditional, straightforward fashion, most of the musicians wisely took a little creative license with the project.
There will undoubtedly be Beck purists out there that take offense to anyone altering the arrangement and/or style of songs like Scatterbrain or Led Boots, but El Becko is about keeping things fresh and showing the possibilities in those classic songs. Out of every track on the CD, you'll be most likely be jolted by Scatterbrain, which is played by none other than Steve Bingham - a violinist. So rather than hearing another guitarist's take on the wildly diverse track, you get a completely different perspective, from the highly classical opening to the Latin drum beat to the assorted high-pitched sounds that pour out of the violin. Another standout is P O M's ludicrously good version of You Never Know/Nadia, which proves that you can play flamenco and still be a speed guitarist.
Don't expect every track on El Becko to be overly experimental, however. Guitars abound on the CD, and you are able to see just how wide the stylistic options are for the instrument. On the opening track You Know What I Mean, Brian Tarquin and Hal Lindes deliver a much bluesier version than the original, but that's not the biggest difference. In moments where there might be an electric riff in the original, Lindes actually is playing a Spanish-style acoustic. Later in the CD Chris Mahoney takes on Star Cycle, starting it all out with the same sort of classic hammer-on intro as the original, but that's where the similarities stop. Right after that point you begin to hear a synth part that plays for pretty much the entire song. There is still a very gritty, guitar-oriented sound on top of it all, but the added keyboard sampling gives Star Cycle a bit more of a space-age feel that I suppose is appropriate for the title.
There are definitely songs that sound like your standard instrumentals, and those particular tracks are more about just relishing in the guitar mastery of it all. Howard Hart plays The Pump, which is relatively close to the original - with of course some added adornment along the way. On the slower side is Doug Doppler's instrumental version of the Curtis Mayfield-written People Get Ready, which Beck originally played with Rod Stewart on vocals back in 1985. Because Stewart was a focal point of the original and the new version features no vocals at all, Doppler is able to take the songs in many more directions during the verses/choruses. // 9
Lyrics: This is an album dedicated to instrumentals only. Although the original version of People Get Ready did feature vocals by Rod Stewart, El Becko's version has chosen the all-instrumental route. // 10
Overall Impression: Listening to an album full of covers can often tear you between the familiar, classic sound of the original and the cover artists' new interpretation. While El Becko might not sound exactly like Beck's originals, it's probably a good thing in this case. You don't have to sit there and scrutinize which guitarist is on par with Beck (by the way, all of the guitarists featured on El Becko are phenomenal), and you can simply go along on their creative journey. Each artist has a distinct sound, which inevitably means that not everyone will like every single track. There are maybe 1 or 2 songs on the CD that seemed like any other generic instrumental out there, but thankfully the bulk of the material is inspired and chock full of technique that will wow you - much like any album from Beck himself. // 9