Ben Trexel Under the Radar (Tiny Kingdom Entertainment, 2000)
Birmingham, Alabama instrumental guitarist Ben Trexel's music has been featured on ESPN, E!, The Playboy Channel, and in New Line Cinema's "The Hidden II" and MRG Entertainment's "Kissing a Dream" on Cinemax II. Under the Radar, his second CD after Wearing a Groove (1997), mixes electric and acoustic guitars in rock instrumentals.
Trexel's instrumentals plod with dull riffs and his leads move through melodies that sound tritely familiar. His chunky style sounds a lot like Dream Theater's John Petrucci, the riff in "Hard Drive" in particular strongly recalling Liquid Tension Experiment's "Acid Rain," but Trexel's writing has no original spark. His acoustic guitar, often featured on short intros to electric guitar songs, adds a refreshing timbre, but the intros feel tacked on and rare relate to the music of the following songs. Trexel's arrangements often repeat the same passages without changes or development for four and sometimes eight cycles, blunting the impact of the riffs. "S.O.B. Blues" solos way too long over a lifeless performance and "Take the Fifth" marches through a rigid shuffle. Two acoustic tracks, "March Moon" and "Web of Moments," offer the most genuine moments on the disc, and "Web" also features the most engaging arrangement, as the melody builds over a repeated figure of only four arppegiated chords but still holds interest.
Except for the hideously cheesy tremolo synth intro on "Wake Up!", Under the Radar sounds immaculate, with thick electric guitars and woody acoustic guitars, a fine achievement for a self-produced record. Trexel's execution is crisp and flawless, especially on acoustic guitar.
Under the Radar features skilled playing and a spotless sound, but the bland songwriting can't hold the listener's interest. This plain music seems suited to background score for television or movies, since it falters without some other point of focus.
Reviewed by Scott Andrews [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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