Sound: Listening to a guitar virtuoso can be exhausting, just trying to wrap your head around the amazing feats that the individual's precise hands are performing. But with Eric Mantel, known for his astounding skill and acclaimed guitar instruction in the Midwest, the eclectic mix of 20 songs on his latest CD The Unstruck Melody concentrates on not only technical wizardry, but accessible melodies as well.
Mantel describes his fifth solo release as a two-act musical journey, an apt title for a CD that explores a bevy of musical styles. You do kind of feel like you've traveled more than a few continents after listening to The Unstruck Melody. Although his guitar is at the forefront of the record, Mantel does not shy away from sharing the stage with everything from a sitar to a slide guitar. Although there are both instrumental songs and those with vocals, it is usually the ones that spotlight Mantel's exceptional guitar solos that tend to stand out from the pack as musical treasures.
Act I kicks off with The Unstruck Melody, an intro that features the sound of a radio being tuned to various stations, then morphing into a hypnotic East Indian melody. The transformation of this track is an interesting one and works really well -- particularly in introducing a musical journey. Immediately after track one, Mantel's guitar goes into first gear with Tribute, an instrumental that starts the CD off with a lively feel and peaks with a fantastic little slide guitar bit.
The first act also features a few songs that just don't feel as fulfilling, often relying on repetitive choruses. One such tune, Shine On, sounds a bit like a pop song you might hear sung at a youth group meeting, Shine does not ever really go anywhere that interesting. It may be on the CD to provide one more facet of Mantel's musical journey, but unfortunately it seems only average among songs that offer much more than a catchy little chorus.
Journeying into the second act, there are quite a few tracks that do accentuate the best of Mantel's talent. From its intro featuring a hammered riff that begins to build in intensity, Wings Of Fire does not cease in delivering the heat. The remainder of the song sustains the energy, with one of the highlights coming in the guitar solo, which sounds as if Mantel has used guitar loops for a backwards sound.
Probably the most interesting and unexpected offering is the instrumental Finger Pickin' Country. When this tune comes on, you'd swear your CD changer has gone onto a completely disc altogether. The sudden sound of a hoedown pumps through your speakers, with Mantel's furious fingers operating his guitar like a the Grand Old Opry kicked in overdrive.
Act II feels ultimately more satisfying after your complete the journey. Mantel is a capable singer and does provide pleasing vocals, but the instrumental songs seem to explore much more in terms of musical styles than the vocal ones. Mantel is able to relay so many different sounds that one single instrument that his guitar ultimately becomes an orchestra. // 8
Lyrics: Mantel should be commended for writing lyrics and singing along with playing his guitar. The Unstruck Melody contains eight songs with vocals, and the accompanying lyrics tend to possess a reflective tone. Given his record is on the label Holistic Music Entertainment, it would be fitting for the lyrics to have some aspects of spiritual insight.
In True Home Mantel sings, And he said follow the light; It will take you away from here; Listen to the sound, it will lift you away from here, true home. The words seem to be focused upon the soul and the spiritual realm, and this works in an album that often delves into East-Indian influences that carry an otherworldly feel to them.
Recurring imagery is used to support the pensive lyrics that are dispersed throughout the CD, resulting in many of the lyrics sounding similar to one another. In Merry-go-round Mantel states, They say this life is like an illusionary dream; Just look around you it's true. Likewise the song Only Want Your Love approaches the subject of dreams stating, All my life is but a dream; Searching for someone it seems; Come to me now. These songs do talk about different topics -- the ups-and-downs of living and romantic love respectively -- but the lyrics do tend to feel a lot alike. This approach could be taken as a beneficial means of linking the songs, or it could be interpreted simply as images being reused too frequently in the songs. // 8
Overall Impression: Eric Mantel does provide a variety of approaches to his instrument and songwriting in general on The Unstruck Melody, and listeners will likely have to listen to his latest more than a few times to appreciate all the CD has to offer. Mantel's work shines when it takes you by surprise, whether with a country-rockabilly hybrid of sorts or sitar-laced melody. These are the times when the musical journey is at its peak, and it makes you eager to hear what other musical influences that Mantel might incorporate in his next CD.
The CD is not a work of perfection, and often gets weighed down with vocal songs that tend to get repetitive and rely too much on run-of-the-mill chorus. This is not to say that in the average tunes that Mantel fails to show his immense talent at the guitar. If listeners are seeking guidance in the art of playing, then Mantel is your man. And many of the songs on The Unstruck Melody prove that Mantel's songwriting could be a force to be reckoned with in the future as well. // 8