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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Uncle Moe's Space Ranch

Uncle Moe's Space Ranch

Review by Mark Jordan

If you wanted to point someone a to a CD and say that "this disc pretty much defines what modern Fusion is all about" then you couldn't go far wrong with Uncle Moe's Space Ranch. The album should also appeal to those fans of instrumental prog and metal who like to hear talented and very capable musicians really stretch.

The CD Features a stellar lineup of Fusion musicians (could you call them Fusicians?). Brett Garsed and TJ Helmerich on guitars, Scott Kinsey of Keys, Gary Willis on Bass and Dennis Chambers on Drums. Brett and TJ have been musical sparring partners for some time and have released three CD's of guitar based fusion together. Brett is an Australian born guitarist who rose to fame with the John Farnham band and Nelson (yuk - well you gotta pay the rent) before striking out on his own and with TJ. TJ Helmerich has been hard to find information on but is a similarly awesome guitarist with a bent for using the studio as his instrument. He is particularly adept at the two-handed tapping style that came to fame during the 80's hair metal era and was pioneered by Eddie Van Halen (although technically Steve Hackett is generally credited with inventing the technique - ed.). TJ takes this style to a entirely different, non clichéd place. TJ has also engineered and produced a large number of recent fusion recordings. Scott Kinsey and Gary Willis are one half of the fusion group Tribal Tech and both bring phenomenal technical ability and sensitivity to the recording. Kinsey is one hell of a keyboardist and one of the leading lights of fusion keyboard with his enormous palate of sounds and highly original style. Gary Willis is a bass playing giant who can swing and groove with the best. Dennis Chambers is a drumming powerhouse who's CV lists a who's who of jazz, fusion and pop. From Steely Dan to Niacin to John Scofield, Chambers can do it all and is a shuffle monster.

All in all this CD is pretty much modern fusion. It tends to lean a little closer to the rock than jazz side but that is not a problem here as there is no lack of good ideas. Never is this disc boring and repeated listens reveals more and more that wasn't apparent on the initial spin. Headphones expose even more on this album that would not be picked up otherwise. With six such talented musicians this could easily have ended up a disaster but each gives the other room to move and each appears to use the other as a springboard. This is sonically interesting and there is never a dull moment. And best yet I hear there is an Uncle Moe's Space Ranch II coming out soon.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Colliding Chimps
This is a great opener for the CD. It starts off with dissonant noise from everyone before kicking into a great riff which starts on guitar and is then joined by what sounds like the whole band. The tune moves through a couple of different sections that get repeated. Everyone gets a solo with Dennis taking the tune to its conclusion.
tjhelmerich@earthlink.net
Starting with ominous sound effects and distant voice samples, that flow into a very liquid bass riff that is doubled by the keyboards. Overall it has a very loose and funky feel. About two minutes into the track one of the strangest guitar solos I've ever heard starts. It appears as if the solo was recorded to vinyl and then played back and scratched into the track complete with surface noise. TJ has some amazing ideas and this is one of them. This is followed by a great bass solo by Gary which picks up the pace of the whole tune and brings in an epic guitar solo by Brett. Another great solo by Keyboard Scott takes the tune out.

Swarming Goblets
A great disjointed drum riff brings in "Swarming Goblets" amongst sitar samples that eventually give way to an dark and ominous chord progression. Next up is a full on bass riff, back to the chords and then into an introspective guitar solo by Brett over some delicate piano chord and key changes. Solos by Scott and Dennis take us into another great angular solo by TJ.
SighBorg
Fusion meets techno/electronica in "SighBorg." This track would not be out of place in the Matrix soundtrack. You might even call it "space jazz." It includes an outrageous TJ solo. Again everyone gets a solo during this full on piece.
He's Having All That's His To Be Had
This is a very funky track featuring acoustic guitar as the dominant solo instrument. This tune reminds me a lot of the fusion band Brand X. Brett takes this one out with a very angular guitar solo.
Minx
The track starts out with heavy drums and a bass riff with lots of guitar noise and what could be samples. This segues into a majestic middle eight. There is more great soloing form TJ, Scott and Brett.
I Want a Pine Cone
It's calypso time at the Space Ranch. There are lots of syncopated rhythms from everyone. It also includes a feedback melody that has a strange familiarity to it (am I hearing "Bolero?"). Everybody gets a solo and solo they do. This is a great tune.
A Thousand Caves
"A Thousand Caves" is a fairly straight ahead slide guitar led piece that would not be out of place on an Eric Johnson CD. It is sometimes county sounding, sometimes almost Hawaiian but always rock. It's a nice way to finish the CD - or is it? There are two "hidden tracks". They are sort of strangely humorous.
 
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