A Selection of Satch
by Cullen James
What makes Joe Satriani so good? Well, in my opinion, there are two kinds of virtuoso guitarist – those with lots of skill who happen to play and those with lots of heart who happen to also have lots of skill. Joe has lots of heart.
The following songs are a few selections from Joe’s prolific career I have chosen to speak about briefly.
Surfing With the Alien: From the album with the same name, Surfing With the Alien holds the distinction of being the song and album that brought Joe Satriani’s name to the world. While it was his second album, it was his first big one. SWtA was the first instrumental album to appear on the Billboard Top 40.
The song is a fun piece of solid rock guitar. One of the things a lot of modern instrumental guitarists get into is weird time signatures and progressive time changes, but not Joe. He’s a solid 4-4 rock and roller. And it’s damn cool. This song is a solid assault of slipstream cosmic coolness, like the comic-book character from which the song was inspired.
One of the things I’ve always appreciated about this piece is how the majority of the song is carrying on or an adaptation of the melody. There are some throw down solos, but the majority of the tune focuses on the central theme.
What Breaks a Heart: Off “Strange Beautiful Music” I overlooked this song for a while. The primary reason is because this album is full of songs that reach right out and grab your attention while this song requires some getting into. It’s an ambience piece and not a rocker -- at least not at first. Around 1:20 into the song, it picks up a bit. There are a lot of sonic textures going on here and that’s why I picked it. Primarily because around 1:55, Joe flies high with some soaring sonic highs. While you listen to what’s going on there though, it’s really easy to miss that he’s got this neat, ska-like rhythm happening in the background. The two sounds are at one time opposed to one another but fit together very neatly.
Just Like Lightening: This has become one of my favorite Satch songs. From his most recent studio album, “Super Colossal,” this is a solid blues-beat based song, but it has a rolling string of notes that is almost impossible to grasp occurring over and over as the melody. While that’s pretty cool on it’s own, the TONE going on in this song! Joe’s known for having great sounds, and this is another example of him squeezing out quality sound. This is just a cool-sounding tune with a classic vibe.
Chords of Life: Another track from “Strange Beautiful Music” this may be one of the best sounding guitar pieces ever written. The sounds of the guitar in this song are just amazing. It’s so clear and so rich – this is how the electric was meant to sound. The tones here recall the great tones of Les Paul and Chet Atkins, but then Joe slips into a solo that is squarely him just before the middle of the song. Again, there are a lot of sonic textures going on here. Truly, a beautiful, moving piece.
Satch Boogie: I was tempted to put in Summer Song to represent “The Extremist” when I realized that I didn’t have a single tune off his beast-selling album represented. And while there are some fantastic songs off that album, there was no way I could make a list of Satch tunes and not have Satch Boogie on it. More so than any other song he has written since, Satch Boogie is quintessential Satriani. It is solidly blues-based rock and roll. After a short buildup he takes off and Satch proves throughout the song that he can play classic rock and roll, but he can also coax sounds out of the instrument through bizarre conjurings of both effects and his whammy bar.
Stay tuned for next week’s article: G3 2007 review.