Joel Paterson “Michelle” (2019)

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One of the great benefits of the forthcoming Joel Paterson album “Let It Be Guitar!” – to be released by Bloodshot Records on September 20th – is that my wife can casually enjoy some beautiful, new arrangements of completely recognizable Beatles tunes, while I can focus intently on the fabulous intricacies of Paterson’s highly developed, stunning playing. It’s truly a record that can be listened to, and be rewarding, on multiple levels; some may enjoy its enormously pleasing familiarity with their attention diverted, but it commanded absolutely all of mine.

Paterson, a windy city native, is one of the busiest musicians on the roots music scene today, and can also be heard playing with The Modern Sounds, Devil in a Woodpile, The Western Elstons, and several other Chicago-based projects. This album, a quasi-follow up to his revered holiday album, “Hi-Fi Christmas Guitar,” is Paterson’s new collection of vintage instrumental, guitar-centric covers of classic songs from The Beatles catalog, and features the guitarist’s well-established blend of jazz, rockabilly, western swing, and country, with signature skillfulness evoked from all. What makes the record exquisite, in my view, is simply Paterson’s touch, a supremely deft one, which is realized in two distinct ways. First, the delicate subtleties of his playing; it’s positively refined. And second, via the wondrous, antique quality of the production; it was recorded in Mono, and mixed, as Paterson describes, “in glorious monophonic.”

“This is the guitar record I’ve always wanted to make,” states Paterson, who actually nimbly plays all of guitar, pedal steel and lap steel on it. “I love the Beatles and their artistry and attention to detail in the recording studio,” he says of his inspiration for the album, “And I love all-things-guitar. So, I had a great time diving into these amazing songs, coming up with my own arrangements, and at the same time paying tribute to some of my favorite guitarists and vintage recording techniques of yesteryear.” While Paterson may bear a sizable visible resemblance to Agent Mulder from the X-Files, to guitar aficionados there’s nothing alien about his stylistic playing. He lists among his primary guitar influences, Les Paul – who basically invented the solid-body electric guitar, Chet Atkins – who pioneered the country music style that came to be known as the Nashville sound, and James Burton – who was the leader of Elvis Presley’s TCB Band, and is ranked 19th on Rolling Stone’s list of 100 Greatest Guitarists. Not a bad trio for Paterson to be imaginatively melding with the Fab Four.

Listening from the bopping opening track, ‘All My Loving,’ all the way through to the tidy finale of ‘Her Majesty’ over the album’s 16 songs and 43 minimalist yet marvelously entertaining minutes – you’re far likelier to play it twice back-to-back than to stop midway through – I was often reminded of The Ventures, and of a bygone era when simple and expertly crafted guitar instrumentals were the nucleus of popular music. Noteworthy though, as well, are two late album tracks, ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ and ‘Drive My Car,’ where Paterson and his band (Beau Sample on bass, Alex Hall on drums, and Chris Foreman on Hammond B3) do stretch out for some serious swinging and soloing – the two most free-wheeling of all the tunes, and reminiscent of the famed funk trio Soulive, whose own explorative tribute album, “Rubber Soulive,” now has company in my collection for favorite Beatles interpretations. Still, it is perhaps the antepenultimate track ‘Because’ that best highlights the sonic precision, rich texture, and meticulous mix of instrumentation Paterson’s adept re-workings niftily weave together. That one and, of course, our featured track, ‘Michelle,’ whose echoey and endearingly unresolved ending is the only thing unsettled about this masterfully finished, epochal recording. Guitarists, guitar nerds, and, I imagine, guitar techs, will love this album, but so will those who know nothing, nor care to, about the inner workings of the instrument. You can expect it to garner attention either way.

The new Joel Paterson album, “Let It Be Guitar!” will be released September 20th on Bloodshot Records, diversified purveyors of “Defiant Roots Since 1994.”

Paterson’s album cover reenacts that of “Introducing…THE BEATLES” – the first Beatles album ever released in the U.S., in January, 1964, just days before “Meet The Beatles!”
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