May 2005

Reeves Gabrels - Rockonica
Favored Nations -- FN 2380-2
Released: 2005
Format: CD

by Joseph Taylor

Musical Performance **1/2
Recording Quality ***
Overall Enjoyment ***

It probably is not surprising that Reeves Gabrels's new disc, Rockonica, has a few moments that remind me of David Bowie. Gabrels was instrumental in helping Bowie forge his sound on the two Tin Machine albums, and on Outside and Earthling. He is a guitarist of consummate skill whose avant-garde leanings have led him to work with a number of artists where the music is slightly outside the mainstream, including Nine Inch Nails and the Cure. He likes pure sound and texture, much like Adrian Belew, another guitarist who has been on the cutting edge.

Rockonica is a high-energy record that has the volume and density of heavy metal, but Gabrels mixes in some pop-song savvy with his gritty approach. Unfortunately, Gabrels doesn’t always have the melodic ideas to keep his sonic and conceptual flights aloft. Rockonica is clearly the work of an intelligent, careful musician, but it will take a patient listener to enjoy the rewards that come from straining to catch the sonic details Gabrels plants throughout the recording.

There is a lot of processed sound here, and there are times when Gabrels crowds things. In addition, he and his supporting musicians play at full throttle for most of the disc, which can be a little wearing over a nearly 60-minute haul. It may be that this guitarist needs the discipline and focus of collaboration to bring out his best. Better songs and a more compelling lead vocalist (Gabrels sings on all the tunes) could make all the difference next time out.