Arlen Roth – Tele Masters
1 hour, 15 minutes
The Fender Telecaster guitar is the first widely available and viable solid body guitar. First sold by Leo Fender in 1950 as the Esquire, then the Broadcaster and finally in 1951 as the Telecaster. The Tele, as it is known, with its clean crystal clear tone and versatility is iconic and used in every type of music. Arlen Roth’s newest guitar summit record Tele Masters is a homage to some of the past and present Tele six shooters and as such is an important and historic entry into the oeuvre of guitar-centric recordings.
Arlen Roth is a guitar player’s guitar player. The creator of the widely popular and influential Hot Licks series of instructional videos and a prolific guitar journalist, Roth has spent his career not only adventuring through the world of guitar music but also teaching others by spreading the gospel. Tele Masters continues a line of all-star collaborative concept records from Toolin’ Around (1994), Toolin’ Around Woodstock (2007), and Slide Guitar Summit (2015). The goal here for Roth and Buddy Guy producer/drummer Tom Hambridge (showing his wide versatility) is to feature all the different ways the Telecaster has been used in Country, Rockabilly, early Rock and Roll, Jazz, Western Swing and Blues. Quite an undertaking.
Tele Masters is laden with stars who go toe-to-toe with Arlen Roth. Big name Country royalty Brad Paisley and Vince Gil show that they are both legit string benders in spite of their often non-guitar-centric commercial success. Legends Steve Cropper and Albert Lee input their unique personalities and style while Roth complements and supports. Guitar cult heroes Bill Kirchen, Jerry Donahue, Johnny Hiland and Will Ray have lengthy musical dialogues with Roth that often trim down technique to pure emotional strength.
Professional Nashville session men Brent Mason and Steve Wariner are given spotlights to do their thing. Blues star Joe Bonamassa and the enigmatic Merle Haggard guitarist Redd Volkaert each take Roth and company deep into the heart of the Blues. Roth’s longtime band mates and collaborators Jack Pearson and pedal steel guitarist Cindy Cashdollar round out the party with the solid rhythm section of Hambridge, bassist Tommy MacDonald and acoustic guitarists Bryan Sutton and Billy Panda as the glue holding this bursting ship together.
The shear force of guitar flash on Tele Masters is overwhelming. If the music wasn’t so tastefully produced, well sequenced and well executed it would not work. The hyperbolic zoom of instrumentals “Remington Ride,” “Bunky,” “Roadworthy” and “Tuff Tele” are soothed by the hop and vibe of vocal cuts like “White Lightning,” “I Can Fix It,” “Tennessee Waltz” (sung by Roth’s daughter Lexie Roth) and “Promise Land” (sung by Roth band mate Sweet Mikey C.). Excellent instrumental takes on “Mrs. Robinson” (funky and hopping), “Satisfied Mind” (tender and emotive) and “Ghost Riders In the Sky” (powerful and haunting) refresh the palate.
The three overtly Blues songs also infuse passion and power to cut through the guitar hysterics: Bonamassa’s feature “Joe’s Blues” in which he is channeling Albert Collins icicles; Johnny Hiland’s feature “Funky Mama” the Big John Patton Soul Jazz vehicle that was a standard for the late great Danny Gatton, one of the greatest guitar players of all time; and stand out closing track, “A Minor Thing” in which Roth and Volkaert tastefully swing the Blues through Tin Pan Alley.
Tele Masters is not for the faint of heart. This is a guitar record with a capital “G.” It is Bluesy but it is also flashy and showy. These musicians are not holding back anything, they throw every lick possible at the music and fill all the spaces.
The effect is exhilarating and technical for the guitar geek (was that Arlen or Brad on the 3rd solo on “Bunky?”; who’s doing the melody the 2nd time through “Mrs. Robinson?”; which sides of the stereo pan are Arlen and Brent on “Roadworthy?”) The album is also accessible and variable. It is a statement of what the guitar can do and how expressive it can be.