While he never slows down (this is his eighth solo release in the last two years alone,) the enigmatic virtuoso guitarist/composer/rock star who chooses to go by the name “Buckethead” does occasionally change directions. His latest, Electric Sea, shows a fresh re-emergence of classical and Spanish guitar in his rich vocabulary of styles. Along with original compositions, the album includes performances of two Bach pieces, and one selection from the Alfredo Catalani opera La Wally. And, as is so often the case with Buckethead releases, I’m tempted to close that summary with “yes, really.” The album also closes with “Homing Beacon”, his elegy on the occasion of Michael Jackson’s death. (Yes. Really.)
There are ample rewards for looking past the artist’s self-imposed exile from the mainstream, here: compositions like the titular “Electric Sea” reveal an amazing fusion of compositional and performance ability, with every passage speaking a potent musical homage to memory and nature. Elsewhere, the songs occasionally skirt the edges of technical overindulgence (“El Indio’s” closing leaps to mind,) but never quite dull their personality in the process. The word nostalgic may sum up the tone of the original compositions, here, but with the important caveat that it’s the emotive content, rather than the musical style, making the appeal to nostalgia.
Electric Sea is a few pages from the songbook of one of our very best guitarists, and it’s an album to listen to with your full attention. Throughout, there’s an unapologetic reverence for the possibilities of electric guitar, the likes of which you’d be hard-pressed to find in anything else since Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms. (Unless, of course, you’ve been following Buckethead all along.)