Gamma 2


Wounded Bird, 1980

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Gamma 1 was a strong but flawed debut from guitarist Ronnie Montrose's first band since the breakup of his eponymous '70s hard rock outfit. Gamma 2, then, came with both aspirations and expectations attached… and fulfilled them both, in spades.

Change was part of the equation. Gone was Gamma 1 drummer Skip Gillette, replaced by Montrose stalwart Denny Carmassi. Departed also was bassist Alan Fitzgerald, headed for Night Ranger and replaced by relative unknown Glenn Letsch. And manning the producer's chair(s) this time around, in place of Ken Scott, were Foreigner/Aerosmith vet Gary Lyons and Ronnie Montrose himself.

In each case, the changes were just what this band needed. There's no better way to say it; Gamma 2 rocks.

To be sure, Ronnie Montrose dominates this album like he does most everything he participates in. These songs are powered by one dynamite riff after another, and the guitar solos consistently astonish with their speed, intricacy and strong melodic sense (this album features some of the best work of Montrose's estimable career). But, unlike on Gamma 1, on this album everyone else keeps up; this band is a tight, powerful unit. Denny Carmassi in particular is downright explosive behind the drum kit, delivering arguably the best performance of a career (Montrose, Coverdale/Page, Heart) that's seen some great ones. He sets monster grooves, adds terrific fills, and when it's called for, wails on his kit with Bonham-like intensity.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The chemistry here is evident from the very start, as the band kicks off with the well-crafted "Meanstreak," Carmassi and Letsch hammering the rhythm home under sharp Montrose riffs and smooth synthesizer fills from Jim Alcivar. Pattison sings with conviction, Montrose solos with passion, the rhythm section drives the whole thing across the finish line -- and before you can even catch your breath they dive into the blistering double-time intro to "Four Horsemen."

There's a reason the first four tracks on Gamma 2 are presented in sequence both here and on the subsequent Best of Gamma collection; like the band that recorded them, they function as a unit. After the menacing, fantasy-inspired lyric of "Four Horseman," the group drops into a gritty urban setting for "Dirty City." The propulsive main riff here plays well off Alcivar's rich synth textures and Pattison's urgent vocals.

The capper, though -- and still Ronnie Montrose's personal favorite Gamma cut -- is the incredible "Voyager." Alcivar's synths stay back here, providing a soft, windy backdrop to what's essentially a Montrose-Pattison duet, a deeply melodic tale of loneliness and salvation that inspires them both to new heights. Pattison's roots as a blues singer are on full display here as he simultaneously conveys grit and a deep vulnerability. Montrose delivers in equal measure, threading a quiet intensity through the whole track, surrounding one of the most impassioned solos he's ever cut, a steady-building sunburst of notes and phrases and astonishingly nimble runs that ignites into Santana-esque "cries" at its climax.

The only hint of a misstep on this album is Gamma's cover of "Something In The Air," which is affectionate, but feels somewhat out of sync with the edgy tone of the rest of the album (and indeed, the band in general). "Cat On A Leash" and "Skin And Bone" are more characteristic, with their slightly macabre, futuristic lyrics and wild guitar and synth tones.

"Mayday" closes the disc out in powerhouse fashion with another driving chorus, more unique synth effects and some stupendous fretwork from Mr. Montrose. Things close on a playful note, a steady acceleration into musical chaos that inevitably harks back to the rocket-launch close of the Montrose nugget "Space Station #5," albeit with synths handling most of the special effects this time around.

The good news was, Gamma 2 was a fantastic album.

The bad news was, radio didn't get on board. The album had a strong following among fans of Ronnie Montrose and the first Gamma album, but airplay and wider success again eluded the group. The label was growing restless, and change was once again afoot.

Rating: A

User Rating: A


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© 2003 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Wounded Bird, and is used for informational purposes only.