Gamma 4


RoMoCo, 2000

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


One of the things about Gamma that was easy to overlook on albums 1 through 3 is that the two principals -- guitarist/bandleader Ronnie Montrose and lead vocalist Davey Pattison -- emerged out of the blues tradition. Montrose broke into the music business playing with Irish rhythm & blues prodigy Van Morrison, and hit his stride playing amped-up blues and r&b in the Edgar Winter Group. Pattison, for his part, was a blues singer before being drafted into Gamma and has in recent years returned to those roots with a pair of solo albums deeply rooted in the blues.

Those roots were easy to overlook when Gamma was busy pounding out its trademark hard rock decorated with evocative, often otherworldly electronic effects. Take away commercial pressures and add twenty years of maturity, though, and you get Gamma 4 -- the 2000 reunion album that's nothing at all like the edgy, futuristic Gammas 1 through 3. Rather, it's occasionally playful and intermittently rocking, but mostly pretty straight-ahead blues/r&b, presented with a distinctly organic feel, almost synthesizer-free.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Four-fifths of the band that cut Gammas 2 and 3 is present on this disc -- Montrose, Pattison and rhythm section Glenn Letsch (bass) and Denny Carmassi (drums). All four are in fine form, aided and abetted by keyboardist Edward Roth, a frequent collaborator on Montrose's recent solo work.

Lest there be any doubt, the fire is still there -- just listen to the muscular, Zeppelin-esque riff Montrose uses to ignite the moody opener "Darkness To Light," and his heavy riffage and great slide work on the thumping "Out Of These Hands." But freed from all label pressures -- this is an indie release on Montrose's own RoMoCo label -- Montrose and company eschew any effort to target a particular audience, and instead play it loose and close to their roots.

Of all the musical surprises awaiting Gamma fans on this album, maybe the biggest is "Love Will Find You," a mid-tempo, soulful pop song whose airy arrangement and lush background vocals have a Peter Cetera feel to them. "Bad Reputation" isn't exactly typical Gamma either, a loose-limbed track that feels like pumped-up blues rather than geared-down rock. And how about the effervescent, electrified r&b of "Resurrection Shuffle" -- featuring Edgar Winter on sax -- or the acoustic melodies of "The Only One," a gentle love song…?

To an 80s-era Gamma fan, this is a little disorienting. Still, some familiar territory can be found on "Last Man On Earth," with its eerie opening section, brooding lyric and shredding solo, and on the closing "Low Road Home," whose spare arrangement and melancholy lyric hark back to Gamma 2's memorable "Voyager."

With the keyboards moved to a background role, these songs rely almost entirely on Montrose's nimble, passionate fretwork and Pattison's husky, timeless vocals. And in the end, that's both the most enjoyable aspect of and the biggest challenge presented by Gamma 4. This disc's low-tech, blues-based approach doesn't really fit in musically with the electronic wizardry and speed-riffing of Gammas 1 through 3.

The thing to remember here is that all four Gamma discs have been about capturing a specific musical moment in time. In that context, Gamma 2000 is bound to sound a lot different than Gamma 1982. The bottom line is, the guys had a good time making some music that once again challenges you to leave your expectations at the door. Do it, and you'll find plenty to enjoy on this disc.

Rating: C+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 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 RoMoCo, and is used for informational purposes only.