CD review...

  First, some of the conventions used here. We donít make value judgments on different musical styles or genres. For our purposes, the style or genre is not an issue. Sure, we hope itís a well done musical production, but we are mainly looking at the alternate picking techniques as developed through the use of the Stylus Pick and how theyíre used, i.e., skillfully, tastefully, artfully, etc.. Weíll point out our favorite parts, tell you what we like about it, and lend praise where itís due, but we wonít tell you somethingís wrong with it because if there were anything significantly wrong or bad about it, it wouldnít have made it to the review board to begin with, right? And also because this ainít the #%*#! Grammys and we're not professional judges or reviewers. We listen to your CD. If we like it, youíre in. Itís that simple.
Tony Smotherman and Brain Station               
Embracing The Spirit
Tony Smotherman: Guitars, Sitar
Andy Haney: Bass                                 
Bruce Royal: Drums, Percussion

Review by Rich Acocella  

 Iíve never met Tony Smotherman or spoken with him, just a few email exchanges. But his CD went to the top of the review pile as soon as I saw it. I knew I was going to love this CD when I saw the cover art and read the liner notes, and I will explain my bias:

  See, back in the late 70ís and early 80ís, I was wayyy out there! I had a beautiful Indian sitar which I loved to play in the park on sunny days. I experimented with dozens of ragas. The sounds and tones produced by the sympathetic strings and melody lines on the main sting, along with the spiritual nature of the instrument, kept me enthralled for hours on end. I believed that by playing the sitar, I was expressing my sincerity and gratitude for the talent I was discovering in myself. Doing this simply helped me believe that my aim was true. So into it was I, that I became a direct disciple of Sri Chinmoy; making the trek every week from Asbury Park, NJ, to His headquarters in Queens, NY. There I was learning about meditation and itís benefits in music from a true Master, often in the same room with great artists like Devadip Carlos Santana and Mahavishnu John McLaughlin (no, I didnít jam with them.) Now, twenty five years later it is indeed a different time; still I recognize a bit of my young self in this CD presentation, Tony Smotherman and Brain Station Ė Embracing the Spirit.

  Listening to this CD, I was glad to find my intuition still functioning at full capacity. As it happens, this is one of the best showcase CDs weíve ever heard. Itís an honest effort which states in no uncertain terms, Iím here, weíre here, and this is what we do.

  The CD begins with a twenty-eight second intro on the sitar, followed by eight excellent compositions by Tony Smotherman. Itís a competent recording (a judgment based on the BA in Music Production and Engineering I got at Berklee back in í84) with great performances by Bruce Royal on drums & percussion, Andy Haney on bass, and Tony Smotherman on guitars. As a band, theyíre not at all boring. Each member brings talent and experience to the group, and you get the sense that they really like arranging and performing Tonyís tunes. This power trio must be quite something to see live, with all the versatility and instrument changing.

  The album is a well ordered mix of heavy metal, blues, and jazz rhythms. There are lots of surprises like unconventional chord phrasing, quick changes in tone, open tunings, and unexpected meter changes; all with appropriate use of delays and reverbs.

  Tony takes chances with far out yet interesting progressions and melodies. His solos are relaxed and controlled; obviously a result of considerable time spent with the instrument. His influences are subtle, too; heís no clone. He goes exactly where he wants to. His hammers are even, crisp, and clear. Sweeps are quite clean with lots of tonal play, and throughout the songs Tony doesnít let up with his versatility and confidence. He seems more interested in his own purity of expression and its source, than becoming the next Yngwie.

  And it doesn't end there. Andy Haney on bass does the job with notable proficiency and brilliance. Like a good film score where you only seem to notice the music at the climax of the scene, realizing it was there all the time, Andy provides an unshakable rock-solid bottom and communicates well with the drummer. Speaking of whichÖ

  Bruce Royal is outrageous! Bruce is a highly versatile drummer with good training and chops that can only come from playing a long time. Bruce justifies the efforts of the engineers Mike Nasworthy, Chris Kellam and Scott Whittier, ultimately delivering that "million dollar sound"; rare to find on a homegrown CD even of this caliber.

  But itís the open tunings where Tony Smotherman meets the challenge, and shows his intelligence. Oceans Beyond the Moon just blew me away. Itís a beautiful composition. Fluid with daring and colorful intervallic leaps, and finger picked with skill and excellent timing, the tone is sweet and the melodic phrasing is compelling to say the least.

  Prospect Hill is a passionate odyssey of guitar styles set in a "Jimiesque" blues progression. This piece has a bit of everything; even a little slice of Three Blind Mice! This illustrates Tony Smothermanís focus on fundamentals and goals, and the bandís overall ability to perform comfortably as a cohesive unit. Itís check your ego at the door with this group, and that in itself is a great thing.

  Following a total of eight very cool performances by Tony, Andy, and Bruce, is a fifty-two second sitar outro to let you down easy - and remind you from where it all started. (Clever, the way it loops back to the sitar intro as the CD begins again.)

  All in all, this CD is a page out of a book of faith in purpose and confidence. I recommend this CD to teachers, students, and aspiring guitar enthusiasts. Tonyís a deep thinker on the way to being connected to a higher source of self expression. Stay on the path Tony, your fans are already waiting for more. 

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