Favored Nations CD Sampler (Favored Nations) If any of you read my reviews religiously (which would be a rather tedious exercise), you'll know that the Favored Nations label is home to some of the best but also most self-indulgent albums by instrumental virtuosos. This album presents both sides of the kind of artists the label seems to attract. I won't cover every track, but here are some standouts from both ends of the spectrum: Eric Johnson and Alien Love Child - "Shape I'm In". A fairly standard hard rock number, surprisingly featuring vocals (a nice touch). However, there's a reason why the album lists the guitar player in big letters and the band in small type. The guitarwork is nice and not overally wank-y, but it still seems more important than the routine song. Johnny A. - "Oh Yeah." One of the better pieces on the album, this is an insanely catchy jazz/shuffle number that seems to have a lot more fun than most proficient instrumentalists allow themselves. Excellent. Larry Carlton and Steve Lukather - "Don't Give It Up." An interesting companion piece to the above, as this one also features a jazz/shuffle feel (with a bit of funk thrown in) but seems overly controlled and contrived (and not as fun) as the whole band gets their chance to shine one at a time. Greg Koch - "Zoiks." Despite my less-than-glowing review of his album, I'll admit that Koch's energetic, fabuously goofy "Zoiks" is a masterpiece, especially compared to what surrounds it on this album. Dweezil Zappa - "Automatic." While not up to his dad's creative standards, Dweezil's use of odd sounds (like what sounds like vocoder guitar) and loud wall-of-sound moments shows that he's a composer to be reckoned with. However, a few of his solo breaks seem a little weak in comparison (he's at his best when the band's at its loudest). Pierre Bensusan - "En Route From Scarborough." A gentle, relaxing acoustic piece, which is admittedly pleasing to listen to while giving Bensusan a chance to show his chops. Still to my ears, it seems a bit routine as far as solo acoustic pieces go. Robin Dimaggio - "Africa." One of the most misguided tracks from Dimaggio's curiously misguided solo album, "Africa" is an easy listening / "inspirational rap" version of the Toto classic. Why anyone would think this is a good idea in the first place is beyond me, and Dimaggio's version seems halfhearted, making the song a curious choice to put on a sampler. Steve Vai - "The Attitude Song." I have to say that "The Attitude Song" is one of the few examples I've heard of a piece that's exciting just because the guitar playing is so virtuosic, over-the-top, and audacious. Most of the time I equate showing off with being boring, but here the playing is so nuts it's actually fun to listen to (I'm reminded of the phrase "stunt guitar" that Vai's mentor Zappa coined). Frank Gambale - "Up in Beachwood." Since, from the beginning of time, every guitar player has put at least one slow blues number on his solo album, I thought I could make it through the album without hearing one. Sadly, no. While I hate to just brush off almost an entire genre of guitar music, this style of song is so stagnant and cliched it's hard to do anything else. - Adam Murphree
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