Allan Holdsworth – Tales From The Vault (2016)

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Just now out (July 28, 2016), the long-awaited crowdfunded odds-n-ends Allan Holdsworth album has finally seen the light of day. Tales From The Vault collects old, discarded recordings rescued from the cutting room floor and refurbished for release, along with a couple of completely new tracks.

Holdsworth’s story is an all-too-familiar story where most of the most talented and influential musicians with significant cult followings can’t get record company backing to make records anymore, because the economics have turned badly against them. So in dealing with the 21st century music business blues, he turned to a 21st century solution and used crowdfunding via PledgeMusic to finance his first studio album since FLATTire from 2001.

The leadoff track “The Abingdon Chasp” features Holdsworth paired with old UK band mate Bill Bruford whose angular rhythms paired with Holdsworth’s signature guitar harmonics call to mind the celebrated fusion recordings the two made together in the late 70s. Bruford and Holdsworth fans remember the song from Bruford’s 1979 LP One Of A Kind, but on this version (with ex-Gong Francis Mose on bass, Jeff Young on keyboards) the late UK sax veteran Ray Warliegh gets most of the glory here and serves to call attention to how Holdsworth’s glissando-heavy guitar playing so much resembles a saxophone.

Of the new tracks “New Dawn” is the more attractive one. Written by British jazz veteran Pat Smythe, it was a tune played by Smythe quartet when Holdsworth was in the group in the early 70s but apparently never recorded. Holdsworth plays the minor key chord progression on Synthaxe and solos on a Starr ‘Z board,’ with no other accompaniment; the other new tune “Poochini” was recorded in the same, austere way.

Tales will be most intriguing to those who took a shining to the 1983 EP Road Games EP; the remaining eight of the eleven tracks — representing all six songs that eventually made it on the EP — originated from the Road Games sessions helmed by superstar producer Ted Templeton. Holdsworth’s album notes describes a Katy Lied type of clusterfuck whereby the two-inch tapes were transferred in the middle of the mixing process to a then-state-of-the-art digital machine that actually degraded the sound.

Four of these outtakes are presented in rough mix form to showcase background singer Joe Turano, who took on the lead vocals for these demos. Turano’s high tenor voice has some similarity to Steve Perry’s, a good fit for Holdsworth’s guitar, but the unfinished quality of these recordings obscure how much potential there really was with Turano on the lead vox where Paul Williams ultimately assumed that role. Jeff Berlin’s marvelous bass solo on “Water On The Brian” steals the show from the vocal on that particular occasion.

Fortunately, Holdsworth was able to sneak some of these Road Games rough mixes out of the record company’s clutches back then at the invitation of Frank Zappa and Zappa’s engineer Mark Pinski worked some magic on them. “Material Real”, “Three Sheets To The Wind” and “Tokyo Dream” were remixed by Pinski sufficiently well enough so that the final mastering job for Robert Fiest was made much easier on these cuts for the PledgeMusic project, showcasing Holdsworth’s godlike guitar solo work in its best light.

Tales From The Vault is currently only offered to those who pledged beforehand to the crowdfunding project (hopefully, it will be available for sale soon to the wider public). It’s fair to state that Tales From The Vault is really just an alternative presentation of Road Games, with a trio of odd tracks thrown in. But as one of the pledgers, I don’t feel cheated. Allan Holdsworth’s chaff is superior to most guitarists’ wheat and after fifteen years of no studio material cut loose, it’s good to see any production from him.

Whether this will encourage him to go a step further with a full record of new material is anyone’s guess and Holdsworth fans’ fervent hope.


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