I’m pretty picky about a lot of things which should come as a shock to none of you. And one of the things I’m extremely picky about is guitar albums. Maybe it’s because I can barely play myself, but more often than not it’s just too much: too much noodling, too many over the top solos screaming, “Look what I can do!”, and too much jacking off all over the fret board. Which brings me to JOHN 5 (you know who the fuck he is, stop it!) and his new album Careful with That Axe, out August 12 via 60 Cycle Hum. Now I was a YUUUGE fan of his last one God Told Me To, and it landed pretty high up on my Top 10 albums of 2012; an absolute masterpiece that was. So yeah, I was dying to see how this record turned out.
The first thing I’m gonna say is that it didn’t knock my socks off right away like that last one did. This was one that I really had to give a couple listens before I could gauge how I felt about it. What I did like right away though was the fact that the record isn’t all solos and no meat. Yes the solos are there, and they are absolutely flawless, but not at the expense of the songs’ structure and aura. Songs like “This is My Rifle” and “Portrait of Sidney Sloane” are full of heavy riffs, but when JOHN 5 lets fly on his solos, look the fuck out, there is no stopping him!! And “Flight of the Vulcan Kelly” is just on a completely different plane than what the guitarists of today are doing, save for Marty Friedman and Neil Swanson.
But that’s not all we get, no sir. “Jiffy Jam” feels like Sunday morning down at the fishin’ hole and the similarities to BELA FLECK AND THE FLECKTONES are eerie, right down to the banjo which takes the lead. It’s so great to see him let other instruments shine, something you don’t get a lot on these records. A good old-fashioned country and western boogie erupts on “Jerry’s Breakdown” and to say it’s fun would be an understatement. Meanwhile “Villisca” is equal parts funky, groovy, and a tad trippy. And we even take a ride in the rockabilly/country rock hybrid (I hear they’re great for the environment) for “Six Hundred And Sixty Six Pickers In Hell” with JOHN 5 just going to town on his strings, it’s pretty insane.
The flamenco stylings of “El Cucuy” will take your breath away as they did mine, once again reminding us of just how incredibly talented this man is, and closer “The Dream Slayer” is the fucking shredder that takes us home and is arguably the heaviest song on the disc. All told, JOHN 5 did an outstanding job on this record, allowing each song to take shape and flow freely without falling into the trap of self-indulgence. It took me a couple of listens, but when the light bulb did go off, I was in heaven. I just wish it was one or two songs longer, because it goes by really fast. If you’re a guitar fan then you simply must own Careful with That Axe.
STANDOUT TRACKS: ALL OF THEM