Greg Koch - The Grip (Favored Nations) In case anyone's wondered why I haven't reviewed CDs in a while, it's at least partially because of this and another "guitar virtuoso" album. Although I can easily see that this is one of the better and less boring entries of the genre, for some reason it still grates on me. I won't spend the whole review pondering the psychology of people who release virtuoso albums or those that buy them (I assume somebody does), but it does seem something worth pondering. As I said before, there are many merciful elements in Koch's guitar work and compositions that help The Grip rise above the muck of many similar albums. For one, several of his pieces have an almost Zappa-ish sense of humour and a fairly unique sound, best demonstrated on the goofy opening rack "Zoiks," the surf-rock tribute "Carlos Dale," the tongue-in-cheek metal number "Albert's Back," and the dissonant funk number "Blind Lemon Pledge". Also, Koch's guitar playing relies more heavily on jazz/country stylings than hard rock, though he switches to other genres effortlessly (a bit too effortlessly, but more on that later). He also seems to play at breakneck speed for most of the album, which at least keeps the energy level up - in fact this is on the whole the most energetic guitar album I've ever heard. However, despite the delightful numbers I mentioned above which seem to balance "showing off" and "fun to listen to," many of the songs tilt the scales way too much on the showing off side. While the good songs seem to exist outside a genre ("Zoiks") or take a style of music in a different direction ("carlos Dale," "Blind Lemon Pledge"), most of the other songs seem to exist merely to show that Koch can, indeed, play this style of music. He plays ballads, country hoedowns, blues, and any number of other genres without adding anything substantial to them, in fact he almost seems to be touting the fact that he can blend so seemlessly into the cliches of a given genre. This, understandably, makes a lot of Koch's songs a lot more fun for him to play than for me to listen to. Still, Greg Koch's The Grip is among the most varied, virtuosic, and enegetic guitar albums around. The album's greatest strengths and flaws are elegantly stated by Steve Vai on the sleeve: "Hearing him play is inspiring to a guitar player to try to achieve greatness on the instrument."The Grip may be nothing more than that, but also nothing less. -Adam Murphree
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