Apparitions – Joe Hodgson (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

From the opening strains of Bach’s Cantata 147 it is clear that Joe Hodgson is more than just a “guy with a guitar,” that he perfectly understands the broader musical landscape in terms of genre, geography and history. And as those classical notes scatter and re-assemble into the funky, blues, electric and eclectic instrumental of Fly Your Flag, you get the feeling that this is an album which is going to be a fascinating musical ride. And so it proves to be, and even within the confines of being essentially a collection of rock-orientated instrumentals, Apparitions covers a hell of a lot of ground, building plenty of fascinating sonic architecture to marvel at as it goes along.

And as if to underline the use of words like “eclectic,” no sooner has the opening salvo finished than we are taken along a more latin groove. Serena Sonata being reminiscent of the likes of Santana’s Cali-Mexico cross border sass, all the more unexpected when you realise that Hodgson has spent most of his musical career between his Irish homeland and London, although once you know that the distant echo and influence of the likes of Rory Gallagher and Gary Moore is hard not to hear.

Apparitions, named for his mother’s favourite poem W.B. Yeats poem, is an album which communicates without words, through mood and emotion rather than the more limited and rigid medium of language. After all, language tells you exactly what a song is about, making it perhaps slightly two-dimensional and set in stone. Sound, especially when moved and manipulated by someone this skilled, allows a song to be all things to all people, allows each listener to takes something different away from each song, something personal and intimate, relevant to their own life, their own thoughts and experiences. How cool is that?

There are funky, high-octane boogies such as The Player, deft and delicate ballads from the lush and love-lorn Till The Last Breath, swirling, Celtic infusions which make up 10 Feet From Chaos and Resurrection Dance’s Steely Dan-esque, West Coast jazz chops. It’s all there and more. Much more!

One of the pitfalls of such rock instrumental collections, which lesser players gravitate towards, is the urge to fall into pretentiousness and show-boating, serving the self rather than the song and forgetting that the music still needs to be accessible, relevant…fun. But Joe Hodgson is a smarter cookie than most. Even though the word virtuosic is certainly appropriate here, the songs never leave the listener behind, never forget their basic purpose…to entertain.

And entertain it does. Apparitions is a joy to behold. Changeable, wide-ranging, fantastically composed and delivered, and perfect for both fans of technicality and technique and those who just want to groove along to its cool moves and addictive grooves alike. Job done!

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