And now for something completely different...

By Chris Cooper

For your consideration this week: some engaging new sounds from Canyon Records, and a frantic but exhilarating tribute to one of Britain’s most brilliant and under-appreciated guitar heroes, Jeff Beck.

Verdell Primeaux and Johnny Mike: The Color Of Morning

Canyon Records has long been the primary source for recordings of the many shades of Native American music, be it the traditional or the more forward thinking. Earlier this year they released the excellent Voyagers, which found flutist N. Carlos Nakai and cellist Udi Bar-David seamlessly integrating the nuances and sounds of their individual heritage into something quite surprising and new. On similar terms comes The Color Of Morning, a contemplative and serene melding of harmonized chants, traditional instrumentation (including many flavors of clay whistle and percussion) and a few distinctly non-traditional elements like acoustic and electric guitar, keyboard and digitally generated rhythms.

Like many albums that outwardly fit the dreaded “new age” pigeon hole, The Color Of Morning keeps its ebb and flow to just a gentle rocking, rather than huge crescendos falling away to whisper dynamics. But what it has over the majority of albums in this genre is a sense of purpose and earthy, dust blown history in every note that Primeaux and Mike breathe, whether they’re drawing from their Sioux, Ponca or Navajo lineage. Over a bed of warm acoustic guitars and shimmering backwards loops the two create a veritable orchestra of voice on “Go My Child,” all the while offering simple yet warm sentiments of encouragement to the listener as well as the youth of their people.

The contributions of multi-instrumentalists Steven Frailey and Stephen Butler should be noted here, as it’s their efforts to give these melodies a contemporary luster without ruining the soul of the music that makes The Color Of Morning stand out. Though there are the occasional missteps into, yes, hyper relaxed and glossy “new age-ness,” they more than make up for it with some smartly arranged and recorded guitars and subtle electronic textures, as on “Prayer For The Young,” easily one of the most well conceived tracks on the CD. Looking for something different, or possibly a way to ease yourself into the world of Native American music? The Color Of Morning might just be the thing.

Various Artists: Freeway Jam — A Tribute To Jeff Beck

On a wholly different note, guitarist’s guitarist Jeff Beck gets the “tribute” treatment by a host players from a diverse set of styles, be it the slinky jazz/funk of John Scofield and Mike Stern to the gutsy blues of Warren Haynes (who simply burns on “The Pump”) and the slippery Texas fueled histrionics of Eric Johnson on Freeway Jam — A Tribute To Jeff Beck. Not for the faint of heart, and certainly mostly for the enjoyment of rabid guitar nerds, Freeway Jam turns out to be quite a pretty good ride provided that you’re familiar with Beck’s influence on the world of rock guitar and a fan of at least half the contributing artists collected here.

The highlights? Mike Stern takes “Diamond Dust” to new places with his lyrical phrasing and fiery chops, Eric Johnson’s instantly recognizable sound and stellar arranging sends “Beck’s Bolero” straight into orbit, Scofield’s drastic reworking of “Over Under Sideways Down” almost stands on its own as an entirely new song, and Greg Howe displays state of the art skills and a fat, burnished tone all over his take on “Blue Wind,” while Warren Haynes turns in some of the most feral and gutsy picking on the album. These tunes alone make the album worth the admission price, and offerings from lesser-known guitarists like Adam Rogers serve as a tasteful introduction to excellent new sounds.

Now, it’s not that there’s anything wrong with the remaining tracks, as Steve Morse, Chris Duarte, Jeff Richman and Walter Trout are certainly not guitarists to be sneezed at. Duarte’s version of “Behind The Veil” is fine, but it’s so close to the original that it slightly pales in comparison to the often radical interpretations brought to the table by the other artists. Morse takes “Freeway Jam” way out there, but it suffers a little from an overly busy arrangement- even though in music like this, that’s sometimes exactly the point. Like Jeff Beck? Want to hear what his music sounds like in the hands of a whole gaggle of adoring guitarists that likely spent a ridiculous amount of time copping his licks and attitude? Here’s your album.

(Chris Cooper can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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