Secret Space

Guitar Garden

Independent release, 2006


REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Secret Space is the second album from indie instrumentality Guitar Garden, a group masterminded by former Guitar Shop editor-in-chief Pete Prown, and whose bread and butter is old-school prog instrumentals spiced with virtuosic playing and cross-genre references.  The end result of this rather cerebral musical stew is a kind of world-prog-blues fusion that’s both ambitious and down-to-earth.

Prown -- clearly a huge fan of middle-period Pink Floyd -- plays most of what you hear here, including guitar, guitar synthesizer, keyboards and mandolin, with a handful of guest appearances by fellow music writers/guitarists Rich Maloof (former editor of Guitar magazine) and HP Newquist.  Together, these three put the lie to the old saw about “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach/write/criticize,” for Guitar Garden is a truly prodigious collection of musical talent.

In a nice old-school touch for an album full of crisp modern tone and electronic keyboards, the album starts with a crackly sample of a needle hitting vinyl, before moving into the brooding keyboard sketch “Passchendaele (Song Of The Mellotronia),” a sort of 60-second overture before you get to the real thing.  The latter arrives in “Evolution X,” a driving rock instrumental full of nimble electric runs that would be right at home on a Joe Satriani album.  my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Next up is one of the album's highlights, as the deeply Floydian “War Echo” sends sharp electric notes skyward over rich acoustic 12-string strums while Dark Side Of The Moon synths swirl, looming and receding.  This cut, the album’s longest at 6:38, builds steadily to a soaring, satisfying conclusion.

The aptly-named “Proggy Mountain Breakdown“ is clearly the oddest number here, layering buzzing, thrumming synths over a bed of acoustic 12-strings and electric slide playing a gentle country-folk rhythm.  A tastier musical melange is the title track, “Secret Space (Blues for R.S.),” a tribute to Flower Kings guitarist Roine Stolt that finds Prown taking the simple blues progression at the core of the song and employing synth and then electric guitar solos to turn it into an electric symphony.

The also-impressive “News At 11” gets its name from the jittery “This just in…” synth melody that starts and anchors the song, which features some punchy, nimble, rather Steve Howe-ish riffs and solos; in fact, it sounds a bit like Asia might have if they’d decided to actually play prog instead of cheesy arena rock.

Another highlight is the shimmering “Mandolin Blue,” which takes a basic blues rhythm and decorates it with run after run of layered mandolin and acoustic guitar, creating a thrumming, at times dazzling garden of stringed delights that reminds of Howe once again, this time his work with Yes.  The other acoustic number is Newquist’s intriguing “Waltz Of The Dead,” featuring him and Maloof on fingerstyle guitar.

Closer “The Eternal Groove” circles back around to the beginning, leading with a run at “Tomorrow Never Knows”-style psychedelia before unleashing a series of zippy, trilling solos that would again make Mr. Satriani smile.  (A guitar player could do a lot worse than sound like Satch!)

While the classic prog influences are strong and obvious, on Secret Space Prown’s devotion to craft produces a fresh take on the genre that makes this -- along with the recent Euphoria disc Precious Time -- one of the most satisfying instrumental albums of the year.

Rating: A-

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