Blackstratblues: Nights In Shining Karma
The long wait has finally ended. The highly anticipated debut album from Warren Mendonsa (ex-Zero guitarist), ‘Nights in Shining Karma’, is finally out and what’s more, it’s available for free! You can download it from BlackStratBlues.com from the ‘Music’ section of the Web site. The Web site also features a section where people who like the album can donate money, although the inconvenience of (not) having a Paypal account might prevent some from contributing. Any way, on to the review of the album.
I must say this album starts to hit right from the very first track. Called “Incense” and rightly so, it’s a beautiful and melodious track which acts just like incense, preparing the listener for the ritual/festival of the rest of the album. Throughout this “festival” you are taken on trips that leave you breathless for more. Songs like “Soar the Sky” and “Anuva’s Sky” have a distinct personality of their own. These two songs really give the impression of conquering unassailable dimensions, be it by the listener or by the musician himself. Warren’s extremely mature phrasing and original structuring speaks a lot for the amount of talent he has and doesn’t really remind me of anyone but a slight Joe Satriani-meets-David Gilmour (think “Marooned”) instinct does seem to peep out once in a while. The wonderful layering of the guitars gives another insight into his creativity, considering the album is mostly home-recorded. And one extremely impressive ability which merits high points in my book is the minimal amount of mindless shredding as an “excuse” for expression, which most of the “greats” all over the world fall prey to more often than not.
Next up on the album is “Blues for Gary”, which is your regular 12-bar blues with Warren’s signature style of swelling guitar solos interlaced with mellow blues licks. Another praiseworthy characteristic is his habit of moving out of the regular pentatonic scale to a minor scale in a style that can only be his own. But since I’m not trying to analyse his music, I’ll refrain from using technicalities.
If only ‘Nights in Shining Karma’ was available on a CD with some proper artwork et al, this would really have been a collector’s item.
“A Weekend With You (And Nothing Else to do)” is one of those romantic tracks which you generally seem to find on most of Clapton’s solo albums. Nothing impressive really, but a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do to keep the women happy. Isn’t that so?
But to make up for that we’ve got “The Cat & The Fiddle” whose pumped-up beats and “nursery phrasing” (if that term exists) gives a nice humourous touch to the whole song, and by the time the short track finishes you’re left with a smile on your face. I, for one, really feel that oddball numbers like “The Cat…” showcase Warren’s musical prowess along with his recording skills.
The title track, I feel, is somewhat detached in terms of relevance of nomenclature. Another slow number, this track doesn’t really do much for me. After “A Weekend …” I’d rate this as the next not-so-impressive track. But remember that this is a highly comparative analysis, the comparison being done between these and the other tracks on the album. On a whole I’d say this is a fairly decent number. One really good thing about it though is that this song is the perfect build-up for the highlight of this album for me — “Bombay Rain”. It has to be one of the best instrumental pieces I’ve heard in a long time. Painted all over with the signature swelling solos that Warren has mastered right from his instrumentals with Zero in their debut EP ‘Hook’ (“Christmas in July”, “Spitleaf”, etc.) and interlaced beautifully with keyboards and acoustic guitars, this song actually reminds me of the view of raindrops splattering against the bedroom window and then finally stepping out into the rain and feeling the freshness of its soak. It’s truly a song which redefines the meaning of “musical expression”.
All in all, ‘Nights In Shining Karma’ has to be one of the best instrumental albums I’ve heard in a long time, one which I really feel can be rated alongside albums from greats like Joe Satriani and Steve Vai, especially due to the excellent production. If only it was available on a CD with some proper artwork et al, this would really have been a collector’s item.