9 songs – 35 minutes
Brian Cober is one of the world’s best double slide guitar players (if not the best), a fact that is ably demonstrated on his new release, Austin Wired.
When played well, slide guitar enables players to hit microtonal notes and to emulate the human voice more adroitly than on a regularly fretted guitar, creating a singularly emotional experience for the listener. Electric slide players may play in standard tuning (Warren Haynes, Rory Gallagher) or tune to an open chord (Duane Allman used open E primarily; Muddy usually used open G, although his later recordings were often in standard tuning). With a slide on one finger of one’s left hand and particularly when playing in a major key tuning, however, it can be very difficult for slide players to voice minor chords (the sad chords) or dominant seventh chords (which Chuck Berry loves) in different songs.
As a result, only very rare and extravagantly talented musicians such as Derek Trucks or Sonny Landreth have the technique and application to work around this limitation through fingering strings behind the slide or angling the slide at gymnastic angles. Originally a lap steel guitar player, when he was 15 Cober found a novel way around this problem when he invented what is now know as the double slide technique, which involves using two guitar slides simultaneously, both worn on the left hand.
Cober’s invention expands the sonic range of slide guitar. He wears one slide on his middle finger, and places a modified thumb slide on his thumb that is able to cover two strings. Playing a standard six string guitar tuned to open E tuning, the double slide would be just a novelty gimmick were it not for the fact that Cober also employs superb technique, bags of attitude and no little humor. His playing on “Nuestro Viento” in particular is both beautiful and moving.
Austin Wired is a very enjoyable album, because Cober deploys his slide playing in support of the song, rather than using the song as an excuse to demonstrate his technical facility. The album kicks off with the belting “What Will Come”, an upbeat, country-rock song that sounds not dissimilar to The Nighthawks’ “Hard Living”. A wide range of blues-inflected songs follow, from the Latin-tinged instrumental of “Nuestro Viento” to the blues of “Delivery Man”, the blues-rock of “Woulda Coulda Shoulda” and an enjoyably turbo-charged version of Robert Johnson’s “Preachin’ The Blues/Blues Walkin’ Like A Man” (Cober cogently argues in the liner notes that the usual title given to this song is not what Johnson would have called it).
Cober wrote seven of the nine songs himself. The two covers are Noah Zacharin’s “Find My Baby” and the aforementioned “Preachin’ The Blues”. The songs are well-written and Cober demonstrates a fine ear for an interesting vocal melody. Ably backed by Big Ben Richardson on bass and Tom Lewis on drums and percussion, Cober’s energy, soul and sense of humour are evident in every song. The panned guitar solo “argument” in “Run and Hideaway” is both utterly bonkers but also somehow in keeping with the overall song.
Expertly recorded and mixed by Stuart Sullivan at WIRE studio in Austin, Texas, in two sessions (March 2011 and May 2013), Austin Wired is a short but highly enjoyable CD of high octane blues rock.