Album Review: Bumblefoot - 9.11

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I don't do many "cool" things, and I am rarely ahead of the curve. But one of the cool, ahead-of-the-curve things I did in the late nineties was acquaint myself with a then-obscure artist named Ron Thal. To be honest, I don't really know how I became aware of him. I likely came across his name on an internet message board. So I searched for some of his music and discovered one of the most technically proficient guitarists I've ever heard.

Since those early days, of course, Thal has gone on to serve as the touring guitarist for Guns and Roses, and through that platform his work has reached the ears of millions. Selfishly speaking, it was a lot of fun to watch someone whose music I loved, but whose music was highly obscure, become one of the most famous and lauded players in modern music.

Shortly before his career took off, Thal released the album 9.11. The title of this album was originally intended to be Guitars Suck - a bit of a self-effacing joke on Thal's part - but in the wake of the September 11th tragedy, Thal decided to make the album a charity benefit CD. Thal is a New Yorker, and has always done a lot of charitable work, so this made a lot of sense. However, in hindsight, I think the album would feel less anachronistic today if he had kept its original title.

As for the music itself, listening to Ron Thal's work is a unique treat. 9.11 offers us the full array of Thal guitar innovations: fretless techniques, thimble techniques, percussive tapping, and so forth. He even plays a beautiful classical guitar piece entitled "Hall of Souls."

But fans of Ron Thal know that, however impressive his guitar technique is - and here I emphasize that Thal bests any player on a "best players" list with technique that is undeniably better than the best in the business (get the picture?) - what's truly amazing about Bumblefoot albums is that they're extremely song oriented. This is no less true on 9.11, where we get all the rap-rocking, vocal tromboning (must be heard to be believed), and soaring vocals longtime fans have come to expect.

Prior to releasing 9.11, Thal released an album called Uncool, which was even more song-oriented. Before that, there was the Hands album, which heavily understated his guitar playing ability. So in the context of Thal's body of work, it was time to release another instrumentally oriented album. Hence the "guitars suck" joke. On that level 9.11 does a good job of exploring Thal's instrumental side more heavily than his previous two albums.

The only real criticism I can make of this album is that, at less than forty-two minutes' running time, it is a very short album. Even at that, one song on the album, the utterly brilliant Latin-jazz-flavored "R2" was a re-release of a song that originally appeared on Uncool. I own EPs that are longer than 9.11, and this was the only aspect of the album that really disappointed me.

Still, it's a great album and features cameo appearances by guitar greats Dweezil Zappa, Mattias Eklundh, and the now-obscure (but at the time, rising star) Joboj. I nearly wore this CD out in my player when it came out, and I still frequently go back to it today. 

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