Review of the CD “212″ from Neil Zaza
Review by David Lowry
Recently I have had the pleasure of interviewing guitar virtuoso Neil Zaza on “Live From Music City,” about the release of his new CD “212.” Having known about Zaza’s work in the past, I was eager to hear the new music. In my opinion, it’s hard to find a guitar instrumentalist that has his own “voice” and composes songs and melodies in such a rare way that as a listener, you don’t need to hear a vocalist to completely enjoy the music. Zaza is that sort of guitar player. Zaza likes to play in major keys to keep the music sounding positive and happy, which I think is great, as most rock guitar players primarily play in minor tonalities. It’s a real experience to put on the headphones and be bombarded with such expressive and amazing songs.
Starting with the first track “Magnus,” Zaza pulls out all the stops. With a huge arrangement for a short song that is basically an intro, it is big, majestic and a gorgeous piece of music.
The next song “Go!” is jumped right into from the previous track and hits you with a lively beat and never lets you go! It’s like being on a rollercoaster on a clear sunny day. The melody wins here, as it keeps you singing along with it.
“King of The World” changes the feel a bit with an opening of jangly guitars and a soaring melody line that sweeps you off your feet. It is a fine, mid-tempo song with great dynamic breaks and, as always, Zaza’s tasty playing.
“Is This Wonderland?” opens with a whimsical keyboard and a softer guitar line to follow with less distortion. It leads into a more full instrumental track with a nice slow feel that makes you just want to sit back and take it all in.
“To The Moon and Back” sets you into a nice slow groove with very little instrumentation to start before coming in with some big hits. Again the melody lifts you up and takes you places that most music never will.
“Baroque Sky” opens with a melancholy feel before pulling you in with very deep melodic tones and big guitar chords. Zaza never allows the music to do anything but keep you totally enthralled with what the melody line is doing. The chorus builds with huge guitars and ascending notes and brings you back down gently to let your ears appreciate what they just experienced.
“If This is Goodbye” starts with a single jangly guitar and simple melody line. With a bit more of a bluesy feel, it’s a departure from the other tracks and so tastefully done. The organ provides a nice back drop for the guitar to play against, the rhythm perfectly in the pocket. Then Bam! Out of nowhere comes Zaza with a huge melody line. His use of dynamics is the sign of a great arranger and it shows on this song.
“Wild Horses” comes in with a drum groove and a drone guitar before the melody accompanies it. It’s very simple and beautiful. Arpeggiated guitars fill it out and the song gets a boost from the rhythm section. Zaza’s use of laying guitars stands out and the melody provides a bounce in your step for this fun stop. With flashes of speed and mostly just really well played melody lines, “Wild Horses” makes you feel like you are out there with them.
“The Beauty” starts with a finger picked clean guitar and Zaza laying a melody line over it with just a touch more gain. The song lives up to its name as it lulls you in with a sweet soft melody and then brings you up to a new height with its chorus. Harmony lines peppered throughout this song complete this beautiful romantic piece and makes you want to take that special someone for a long walk and remember why you are with them in the first place.
Next up is a cover of The Police’s “Message In A Bottle” which is a refreshing take on the original. While a bit of a heavier feel, it’s very playful and never loses the sense of what the original brought. Zaza captures the melody perfectly, you don’t miss the vocals at all. This is very well done and shows just how well he is able to capture the spirit of the song and make it even better!
Finally, Zaza gives us his version of Ah-Ha’s “Take On Me.” A fun cover that actually made me like this song again after all the overplay it got. He has a knack for taking familiar songs and making them very fresh and exciting.
In summary, “212” is an outstanding musical effort from Neil Zaza. Mr. Zaza is the type of player that knows exactly what to play, when to play it and never over does it. He is incredibly melodic and a very mature songwriter and each song on this CD showcases that. One of the best instrumental albums I have heard in years and on par with the other greats of this genre such as Andy Timmons, Joe Satriani and Steve Vai. 5 out of 5 stars!
Note: At the time of this writing, The Lowry Agency has no affiliation with Neil Zaza.