Last year, Gayle Ellett, the creative driving force behind Djam Karet, released the debut from side project The Electromags, titled Shiny Side Up. This trio of Ellett, plus drummer Craig Khan and bassist Mark Cook served up an album which was a celebration of the electric guitar, and the Californian lifestyle and landscape. The record worked so well that the core band has regrouped and immediately recorded a follow up, but this time around, Gayle has invited many of his musical friends to participate, hence the album title, Friends.
Friends picks up where Shiny Side Up left off, but listening to it, it’s immediately apparent that the guests have broadened the palette and added a fresh layer of interest, whilst remaining faithful to the initial aim of exploring what can be done with a simple electric guitar. The addition of different guitars and, more importantly, different players bringing their own style and personality, has added a whole new dimension to The Electromags, and the album seems much more varied as a result. It’s also interesting that many of the ‘friends’ are relatively unknown. Of course, that could simply be my ignorance, but Gayle doesn’t seem to have opted for star names to help sell the record. One or two I knew, but most required investigation to find out who they were! Nevertheless, each guest has brought something new and exciting to the record, and it’s a joy to listen to so much talent.
First guest out of the gates is Ted Price, who isn’t a guitarist, but who brings swelling Hammond organ to the table, leaving guitar duties to Ellett himself on Viewer Discretion Advised. It’s an upbeat tune, both in tempo and disposition, the sun is beaming down and we are biking down Topanga Canyon Boulevard heading for the coast, and I can’t help but grin as that unmistakable Hammond tone cuts through, contrasting with Ellett’s nimble guitar picking.
The aptly named The Many Moods of Morgan is about as prog as this album gets, shifting through several different musical ideas and moods in its short duration. It’s typical of Gayle Ellett’s composing that songs rarely follow a predictable path, and this song is just gorgeous, and an early highlight, closing out with an almost Yes-like sensual shimmering sunset. Brian Chapman seems to more usually associated with country or Americana, but shows he can turn his hand to various styles with ease, and his guitar parts are well judged. After a laid-back easy rocking Via Valencia, the (slightly) prog feel continues on the excellently titled It’s All San Andreas’ Fault, courtesy of some fine guitar and synth from Marc Ceccotti, from respected prog band Edhels. The track climaxes with some wonderful note bending and sliding from either Ceccotti or Joee Corso, and further underlines the variety of guitar sounds and styles on offer on Friends.
Members of Japanese prog rockers Baraka help out on the funky-edged TransPacific Highway, and we’re back on the open road without a cloud in the sky, as the synth and guitars trade licks. Another guitar slinger I’ve not heard of, but will definitely be investigating further, Dudley Taft brings a more muscular approach on Splitting Hairs, and the Electromags find themselves at the heavier end of their repertoire. Taft’s assertive playing reminds me a little of early Ted Nugent, but I’m fairly confident he doesn’t hunt his dinner with a bow and arrow, so the comparison ends there. The slow and heavy opening soon changes gear and the second half rocks out with synth and duelling guitars, which eventually fade, but could have gone on far longer! I think Taft’s Guitar Kingdom album beckons on the strength of this.
Thierry Payssan from French proggers Minimum Vital introduces himself on Maximum Connection with some colourful synthesiser playing, whilst guest guitarists Bill Polits and Aquiles Magaña make tasty contributions over Ellett’s Mellotron work. Picking out these highlights is difficult, as every track has something noteworthy and special about it, and Ellett’s songs are always interesting, even when he tries hard to keep things simple. He might say that it’s all about the guitars rather than the compositions, but they’re inseparable and need each other. And the songs are all about the location: Topanga, California. It’s in every chord change, every guitar break, every drum roll and bass pulse, the sound of sunshine in the Canyon. Finally, 1960 Ocean Front Walk takes us to the coastline as the sun sets, Yang’s Frederic L’Epee playing his heart out on a tune which has the same atmosphere as Robin Trower’s Bridge of Sighs. It’s a magnificent way to close the album, just perfect.
So Gayle Ellett has taken his no frills guitar album blueprint and embroidered it with Friends, widening the scope as he does so, adding different musical talent and styles, further layers of interest, and the result is something a bit special. It deserves to be heard.
01. Viewer Discretion Advised (3:53)
02. The Many Moods of Morgan (4:53)
03. Via Valencia (3:46)
04. It’s All San Andreas’ Fault (4:15)
05. TransPacific Highway (3:11)
06. Splitting Hairs (4:42)
07. Maximum Connection (3:34)
08. Three Parsecs from Tucson (3:55)
09. Maria’s Lakeside Drive (3:20)
10. Guitar City (4:36)
11. Sons of Sebastien (3:05)
12. Bueno Sanga (2:59)
13. 1960 Ocean Front Walk (5:28)
Total Time – 51:37
Gayle Ellett – Lead & Rhythm Guitars, Mini Moog, Rhodes, Hammond, Mellotron
Mark Cook – Bass (except tracks 3 & 5)
Craig Khan – Drums
Ted Price – Hammond Organ (track 1)
Brian Chapman – Electric Guitar (track 2)
Alfonso Rodenas – Electric Guitar, Rhodes, Bass (track 3)
Marc Ceccotti – Electric Guitar, Synthesiser (track 4)
Joee Corso – Electric Guitar (track 4)
Issei Takami – Electric Guitar (track 5)
Shin Ishikawa – Bass (track 5)
Dudley Taft – Electric Guitar (track 6)
Thierry Payssan – Synthesisers (track 7)
Bill Polits – Electric Guitar (track 7)
Aquiles Magaña – Electric Guitar (track 7)
Carl Weingarten – Electric Guitar (track 8)
Walter Whitney – Synthesiser, Percussion, Gongs (track 8)
David Udell – Electric Guitar (track 8)
Barry Cleveland – Electric 6- & 12-string Guitars, Bowed & Bowhammered Electric Guitar (track 9)
Paul Richards – Electric Guitar (track 10)
Lucio Calegari – Electric Guitar (track 11)
German Vergara – Electric Guitar (track 11)
Juan Pablo – Synthesiser (track 11)
Alvarez Ortega Bianchi – Electric Guitar (track 12)
Jim Crawford – Electric & Slide Guitar (track 12)
Frederic L’Epee – Electric Guitar (track 13)
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 27th October 2023