Change

Dave Uhrich

Polyscope Records, 1999

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/26/2000

In fairness, I should make this disclosure at the start of this review: I happen to know Dave Uhrich. While it has been several years since he and I have spoken, I still consider him a teacher and a friend. It was he who taught me to play guitar when he was a local celebrity teaching at Minstrel Music in Niles. I remember sitting in the cramped lesson room, my jaw literally scraping the floor as he showed me techniques on the guitar I could only dream of performing. I remember having the same feeling when he gave me a copy of his demo tape - which I still keep as a prized possession.

I boldly predicted that Uhrich would become the next Joe Satriani if he was given the right breaks. And, for a while, it seemed like things would go his way, as he landed a record deal and released two CDs. Unfortunately, fate has a nasty way of playing tricks; the records were never adequately publicized, and the label folded after a few years. I also never quite warmed up to those discs, for some reason. It always seemed like Dave was holding back his full potential. (Some of the songs from his demo were re-recorded for these albums - and I'm sorry, but I was always biased towards the demo.)

Now, some five years after his last effort Fret-No-Tized hit the bins, Uhrich has returned with a new label, a new band (including drummer extraordinaire Kenny Aronoff) and a new disc, Change. This disc provides an insight into the trials and tribulations that Uhrich appears to have gone through in his life recently - proving that sometimes, out of the greatest pain comes the most beautiful work.

The first time I picked this disc up (believe it or not, I actually bought this one, as I have all of his commercially available discs), I got worried when I saw that Uhrich was now singing. Uh, oh... last time a guitar god tried that, it was Joe Satriani on Flying In A Blue Dream, a release which left me a bit cold. (It wasn't until recently seeing Satch in concert that I was convinced he could pull off vocals well.) However, my fears were quickly put to rest on the very first track (and one hell of a candidate for a single), "Some Things I Can't Change". In fact, Uhrich's vocals are incredibly strong - something which pleasantly surprised me.

Now, I do not claim to have any insight into what's happened in Uhrich's life, and I apologize in advance if I'm wrong. Like I said, I don't believe I've spoken to him in four years, and the last time was just to say "hey". (To be honest, I don't know if Dave would remember who I was, though if he did, I would be incredibly flattered.) But the lyrics in many of these songs suggest that Uhrich has been through a nasty divorce, and his way of healing the wounds that such a split can leave was by venting his sadness, anger, frustration and confusion through his music.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

In that regard, Change is a very difficult album to get through. This is an album that exposes many raw nerves, and Uhrich isn't afraid to let people know how he feels. Again, from "Some Things I Can't Change": "Read this like it once was / Believe this I'll learn to love again / Hold me until you fall / You told me your promise then took it all away". Ka-pow. Yet there remains a flicker of hope amidst the pain; tracks like "I Feel Alive," "Something 2 Believe" and "All That Remains" all suggest that Uhrich could see rays of light bursting between the storm clouds. There's a message in there for all of us, I think.

On his previous albums, Uhrich tried to play the role of guitar ubermensch; this time, it's almost as if Uhrich decides to play the role of Eric Clapton and allow the song to be the vehicle, not the guitar solo. It's a dangerous move, but it works well. Tracks like "Why Do You Cry," "Looking Glass" and "Crazy In Love" all prove that the move is worth it. (To be fair, I was prepared to rip "Crazy In Love", ready to accuse it of being the "thumb your nose" song against the ex-wife with the ending verse about being loved by thousands of women. However, once I heard Uhrich's tongue-in-cheek, jazz meets David Lee Roth style, I understood everything.)

Of course, Uhrich spends some time flexing his guitar muscle on a few instrumentals, but he's also more than willing to give his bandmates - Aronoff and bassist Wally Hustin - room to show their stuff on the track "Air Guitar". "Alone" reminds me of the two previous instrumental albums that Uhrich has done, while "Guitar Food" acts as a prelude of things to come. "Freedom Rain" is a beautiful acoustic piece, and hearing it makes me wonder if Uhrich would ever consider doing just an album of acoustic guitar work.

The masterpiece on this album is "Bliss," an instrumental that is performed solely by Uhrich. Using one guitar, effects pedals and no overdubs, he creates a song with Gothic overtones that reminds me of the works of Mike Oldfield and Vangelis. I've seen this track performed live courtesy of a local-access cable show, and watching Uhrich play this song demonstrates just why this guy's name should be uttered in the same breath as Satriani, Steve Vai or Eric Johnson. Every time I hear this song - and I think I've now listened to it some 25 times - I hear something new. If you're not moved by this piece of music, you have no blood left in your body. If the mood is right, I can be moved to tears by this piece.

It may seem hard for some to believe I can be objective about Change, knowing that I have a history with Uhrich... but I can honestly say, with all sincerity, that this is the best work that Uhrich has ever done. If this disc does not make Uhrich a star, I will seriously question whether there is a God out there. If this disc does make Uhrich a star like I hope it will, I'll know that he's long overdue.

Change is good, Dave... and Change is easily the best disc I've listened to in the longest time.

[For more information about this album, visit Dave Uhrich's Web site.]

2000 Christopher Thelen 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 the record label, and is used for information purposes only.

Rating: A

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© 2000 Christopher Thelen 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 Polyscope Records, and is used for informational purposes only.