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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Clark Plays Guitar

Clark Plays Guitar

Review by Gary Hill

Clark Plays Guitar is both a description and a name. Clark (Colborn) certainly does play guitar, and very well. Colborn does more than just that, though. In fact all the instruments on this CD are provided by Colborn. So, who is this guy? Well, he's a musician from Rockford, Illinois. The thing is, I have been thoroughly immersed in the Rockford music scene for more years than I'd care to admit, but I had never heard of him 'til recently - and he is an incredibly talented musician. Honestly, if this were the 1970's his name would be getting tossed around with such heavy weights and Randy Rhodes, Eddie Van Halen and Jimmy Page - he's that good.

My first exposure to Clark Plays Guitar came in seeing the band (he has a drummer and a bass player with him for live shows) at a local club. These guys were simply incredible live! Honestly, their live performance is a bit better than this disc, but that's more a factor of how stellar these guys are in concert. The CD would probably be in the very good to excellent category, but it has a few weaknesses. For one thing the opening track is pretty weak in terms of production quality. Just listening to that one you might expect to hear a whole CD of stuff recorded in a basement on a four track, but the rest of the album has top-notch production. Secondly, I think the album could benefit from adding vocals to a track or two - but I tend to be a hard sell on fully instrumental albums.

Fans of progressive metal and 70's guitar heroes should definitely check this guy out. He is one of the greats, without question. I look forward to seeing what comes next for Clark Colborn a.k.a. Clark Plays Guitar.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2005 Year Book Volume 1 at

Track by Track Review
Waiting in the Wings
Chirping waves of processed guitar run in circles, then a hammer on comes in over top a series of rhythmic textures. This one builds slowly in new directions, then something that feels very much like European neo classical metal takes it. The abrupt ending here is a bit rough. This is a very brief introductory number, and the recording is decidedly less professional than the rest of the material here. Frankly, I'm not sure this one should have been included on the disc, but I am positive it was not a good choice for album opener.
Return From Oblivion
This rocker has elements of '80's hair metal alongside more substantial stuff like Dio. Colborn spins enchanting waves of lead guitar overtop of an ever changing and quite mature musical landscape. This is a much more effective piece than the last.
This one comes in with a tentative pretty balladic style. After running through in this mode it changes to melody that calls to mind both Van Halen and Joe Satriani. This is much less metallic than the previous cuts and focuses on a melody that at times is very prog oriented. This is a great electronically charged ballad with almost jazz like tendencies at times.
Stainless (With a Touch of Cosmic Power)
Percussion starts this one, then a very meaty metal riff enters to move the track along in fine fashion. This one shifts to a very '70's metal groove after a time, but the overlayers call to mind progressive metal textures more than the classic. Colborn's guitar gets very heavy at times on this one. It a very strong number that is quite dynamic and very satisfying. With as much as Colborn packs into this one, it's hard to believe it clocks in at a little more than four and a half minutes.
Papa Don't Drink That Hooch
Sounds of a busy restaurant start this, than a killer bluesy groove that feels just a little like modern King Crimson takes over. This jam is quite catchy and cool, but still manages to pack some surprises into its rather limited overall progression. It ends with a tasty traditional blues guitar solo segment.
This one comes in anthemic and feeling appropriately "bittersweet". Extremely evocative and powerful, this is a standout on the disc, and might have been a better choice to start off the set. This never warders far from its origins, instead progressing itself by intensifying and reworking the melody lines in dramatic fashion. A false stop gives way to a very short reprise. I love this cut.
Smoke and Mirrors
This one stomps in crunchy and very Sabbath like. In fact, Colborn really captures a very Iommi-like guitar sound on this scorcher. While it has some changes that move from this basic approach, including a killer bass driven segment, that Sab-like section alone makes this a winner. There is a great slightly off kilter feel to the rhythmic structure of this one throughout. This is a very dynamic cut moving through a lot of varied metal textures and modes - and all in the course of four and a half minutes.
Tap Dancing
At just over a minute, this weird little tapped guitar solo is by far the shortest cut on the disc. Colborn definitely shows he has the hammer tapping technique mastered with this.
Kick It
This rocker is more straightforward and catchy. It's another strong one. Colburn puts in some his most expressive guitar sounds of the entire album on this killer.
No Yesterday, No Tomorrows
Weird clicking and clocks ticking start this, then an alarm that feels like it will never end gives way to an incredibly tasty central song structure that feels both modern and retro. The piece almost feels like Police styled reggae at times. It is rather bouncy. Colborn's work, as always, is spot on and very tasty. The ticking sounds return to end this.
Knights with Mystical Powers Battling Evil Demons (in the Presence of Kings, Queens, Wizards & Dragons)
With one of the longest titles to come around the bend, at not quite two and a half minutes, it might take you longer to read the title than the song lasts. Still, Colborn packs some killer jamming into that short time span, at times feeling like early Metallica while at others calling to mind modern King Crimson. Still other portions feel like high-energy fusion.
Ethereal Dance
Cool prog-like processed guitar sounds that feel almost like keys start this intriguing, if a bit odd, cut. This is mostly texture and quite pretty. It is amongst the most prog like material, but again I think there are stronger pieces to be used as an album closer. It includes a cool ambient section.
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