Stef Burns - Swamp Tea (1999, Lakeside) Cyberhome: www.stefburns.com Guitarist Stef Burns cut his chops in numerous 80s pop backing bands, including Shelia E., Berlin, and Michael Bolton, with musicians who played with Miles Davis, Santana, and Journey. He also recorded four albums with Y&T and two with Alice Cooper in the early 90s. Burns' solo record Swamp Tea features guest musicians from many of these bands supporting Burns' songwriting and guitar.
The speedy triplet groove of "Wayfunner" rocks with a ferocious beat, but through a rather predictable chord progression, and the solo and lead figures in "Walking the Penguin" slip into stock shred and blues guitar patterns. The ballad "Summer of '68," written by guest drummer Narada Michael Walden (Santana) and the only song not co-written by Burns, builds through a clean guitar theme into a furious solo accompanied by Walden's equally furious climax on drums. However, the repeated clean guitar theme section before the solo grows tedious. The title track "Swamp Tea" features a snappy blues riff on acoustic guitar and an electric slide guitar melody, with eerie pitch-wheel transposed backing synths -- a great contrast to the surrounding electric shredding and the best song on the album.
The grand symphonic theme of "Horton's Revenge" soars, and the song is concluded effectively under four minutes in length. This mature decision avoids the monotony found in much instrumental guitar music, caused by artists using the regular lengths for vocal rock songs, around five minutes, without compensating for the shorter attention span for instrumental music. Unfortunately, some of the other songs are not arranged with this in mind, including the tiresome "Quello Che Fai."
Burns plays quick and clear, with a smooth, round guitar tone, inspired in spots but overall without a brilliant original touch or feel. The excellent production reinforces the solid backing work by all of the guest musicians, including primary songwriting collaborator, keyboardist John Seppala.
The very solid instrumental guitar playing and writing of Swamp Tea shows talent and skill, but there's just barely not enough originality in both the playing and writing to mark Stef Burns as a serious contender.
Reviewed by Scott Andrews [sha3u@Virginia.edu]
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