Those of you familiar with UK Hard Rock will know the name Myke Gray from his time in two much loved bands of the late 80’s / early 90’s in Jagged Edge and Skin. Some might even recall a brief stint in UFO or his later time in Red, White and Blues. No one it seemed, Myke included, ever thought there would be a solo album, but here it is, limited to just a thousand physical copies and financed in part by fans.
I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t generally like instrumental albums, they often seem indulgent to me and often venture into areas that few fans willingly follow. Sure there are a few guitarists who can make their music say it all without words, but its a real art that is far, far, harder than writing a standard song with no voice to add the dynamics and the emotion. You stand alone, and count on your music to speak to the audience. Its a form that lays the artist bare wide open to the increasingly inpatient and brutal public. An instrumental album needs to be something special, needs to connect and needs to do it fast. On ‘Shades of Gray’ you can hear the passion from the very first note…
The opening of ‘Infinite Power’ displays Myke’s guitar gymnastics up front and sets up an uplifting instrumental that has touches of Vai and Halen as well as an inherent sense of melody and exploration. It’s a great opening statement and one that eases the listener in to some of Mykes’ more expensive ideas. They start in earnest with ‘Maverick’ which roars out of the gates with a such a memorable refrain you imagine that you’ve heard echoes of it before a million times its so familiar. One thing interestingly with the track is that you can’t hide the melody and I found myself making up my own words as Myke’s guitar blossoms like a flower before a bluesy riff kicks in to counter the more orchestral touches. It’s a work of great refinement and one which makes you wonder if this could be something more than just another ‘guitar album’.
‘Diablo’ starts off immediately heavier and more tortured before the door is finally kicked in by a low down bluesy riff and that sweeping pattern sets up the groove and Myke’s guitar hovers as if waiting for the wrong move. It’s menacing , bold and simmers with aggression, but its also warm and when it takes off at two and half minutes in you feel like you’re on a wild night ride through dark skies – its a wonderful ride that eventually fades over the horizon making you wonder what happens next?
As the album progresses you begin to get a grasp of the depth here and see flashes of colour and texture amongst the flurry of creative energy. ‘Here and Now’ has some wonderful harmonics and a lilting background that feels more Celtic, like a landscape of green fields and high peaks. It’s antithesis is ‘Kill the Masters’ which is all power like latter day Thin Lizzy with an eastern twist and you hope that Myke is a Game of Thrones fan as it would be a wonderful soundtrack. It’s another song that recalls a landscape or maybe a movie tracking shot and gives me a hit like Satriani’s recent work.
Keeping the momentum going but also turning at right angles to the flow: ‘Grab Life By the Balls’, which you feel might be one of Myke’s mantras, takes a bluesy leaning riff and sets up a great groove and proceeds to ‘party’. Its clearly a party song, fun and free which develops into a chase half way through tying to kick off its shoes and escape pursuit. It’s followed by ‘Keep Your Nose Clean’ another of the more uplifting moments here, with soaring blue sky guitar and which sounds like it was a real joy to record.
‘The Shattered Illusion of Love’ is more atmospheric, introspective , delicate with a guitar that sighs and weeps and shows a real depth of mood and emotion that builds to a frustrated scream before mellowing again and building a second time and ending with a real moody hard rock solo , its got a great flow and is a wonderful piece of musicianship- one of my favourites here. That emotion is retained but channelled in a different direction for ‘V’ which is all swagger nd groove and timing. It’s spilling with big bluesy notes and real feel with some nice cascading patterns and real drive offset by a repeated refrain that pushes it forwards. I love the middle section where we’re left with just guitar before the drums crash in again.
The album is driven home by three of the best tracks: ‘I Love Guitars’ again has that Celtic sway its another of those songs begging for lyrics a sublime piece of music that will really resonate with a lot of fans of Myke’s previous work – God I love this song. It’s equalled by ‘Staring at the Ocean’ which takes the mood down again, you can hear the running waters amidst the lone guitar that stands out like a beacon in the deceptive calm. There’s a gentle beauty, a feeling of calm and tranquillity but also wonder for people and places far away. Myke paints the scene beautifully and you see the shimmer on the horizon as the drums come quietly in ushering the waves, its all very calming.
Too soon though the journey is at an end. ‘Take Me Home’ the album closer is also the only non-instrumental track on the album, featuring the smoky-voiced Lorraine Crosby, its a stunning song, blues with a touch of Hard Rock and Gospel and it really manages to showcase her wonderful voice as Myke noodles some Georgia Satellites-like shapes in her wake. I don’t know about you but this immediately makes me want to hear their Blues album! To me it sounds just like vintage Joe Cocker and man that is as good as it gets.
Not a lot of guitarists have the balls to put out an instrumental album because it is so hard to engage your average non-muso rock fans without a voice there to ease you along the way. This however is a real triumph, it’s excellent music, beautifully played and full of wonder and emotion.
If you’re looking for a ‘hard copy’ we understand there are less than 300 left.