Roll Over And Play Live!

Ronnie Montrose

RoMoCo Records, 1998

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Joe Satriani is about athleticism. Steve Vai is about inventiveness. Eddie Van Halen is about the intersection of flash and melody. Jimmy Page is about sheer thundering power.

Ronnie Montrose -- as this first live album of his long and distinguished career reminds you -- is about passion.

Satriani and Vai and their acolytes use and manipulate the guitar, sometimes astoundingly so. But -- to my ears, anyway -- their work can come off as somewhat clinical. They are masterful technicians, but at times they don't seem to have a great feel for the music they're so efficiently performing.

What Ronnie Montrose does with a guitar is, seemingly, to become one with it, to make it the ultimate instrument of self-expression of a person who is, by all accounts, a very intense individual. There is an almost limitless energy that flows through his playing, from the eerie sonic squiggles he teases the audience with in the opening seconds of Roll Over and Play Live!, to the bruising power chords he uses to finish off the closing "Wish In One Hand."

In between there's a feast for any fan of the electric guitar: rippling hooks, thundering jams, blistering solos (do not miss "Sidewinder"), and a handful of magnificently understated moments lurking in the middle.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Here is where Montrose truly proves his mettle as a guitarist. His peers on the instrument -- and he does have them, he's not Superman -- often seem somehow frightened of the quiet spaces between aggressive runs on the fretboard.

Montrose, by contrast, relishes them, planting some of his most evocative, nimble playing there in the quiet corners of songs like the rousing opener "Feet First," whose galloping central riff slams into you like a 20-foot wave. Yet when the melody falls back mid-song and Montrose is left to explore quietly through the break, every note is tight and sweet and heartfelt.

As to the particulars, this album is taken from one of his small club shows -- and it was a single show, no overdubs, the real, raw thing, baby -- in support of 1994's Music From Here CD. Many of that album's best tunes ("Primary Function," "Largemouth" and "Indigo Spheres") are represented here, and the band is the same power trio as on that disc: Montrose, bassist Craig McFarland (who drills out a dynamic, surprisingly entertaining bass solo on the latter song) and drummer/spouse Michele Montrose, who provides a solid backbeat and creative fills throughout.

Several of the tunes are new -- fresh jams worked up in rehearsal and sometimes embellished on stage. Thus, the music is loose in places, wandering off on tangents that can be either fascinating or patience-testing, depending on your level of interest in listening to an incredibly gifted performer experiment with tone and melody before your ears.

Even at his loosest, though, Montrose has a good instinct for keeping things entertaining, throwing an immediately identifiable ascending riff from the 1973 Montrose classic "Rock Candy" into "Green Thing," before bouncing a pair of sizzling solos off it and hijacking the whole song off in an entirely different direction.

Overall, Roll Over and Play Live! serves as an electrifying reminder of why Montrose has been making instrumental guitar albums for 20 years now, almost exclusively so for the last 15. No vocalist/lyricist he's ever worked with has been able to match the passion he channels through his own instrument. Rather than fight through a series of artistic compromises in a quest for another shot at large-scale commercial success, Montrose has fully embraced the music that's in his heart. Next up: his first all-acoustic album. Long may he run.

Rating: A-

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© 1999 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 Records, and is used for informational purposes only.