Tue Nov 30 2010
Being an obsessive Buckethead fan isn’t easy.  You never know what style of music his next album is going to be, or how many he’ll put out in a year (although I doubt he’ll ever match 2007 again--at least 20 albums’ worth of fresh slabs).  On the other hand, if you enjoy the sound of a well-played guitar, maybe being a fanatic is easier than it seems.

On his latest disc (his second since recovering from back surgery earlier this year), Buckethead makes a slight return to the aching atmospheric blues of 1998’s Colma, a masterpiece that most fans will tell you is the ideal starting point for the uninitiated.  He’s been on a relatively mellow kick for the past couple of years, but this feels like the long-awaited, definitive followup to Colma, and it feels good.

Twelve years ago, Buckethead was still trying to make his name; nowadays he’s got less to prove, but he’s still not taking his audience for granted.  Instead of the intense picking and stark minimalism of Colma, his playing is more textured on Captain Eo’s Voyage, less a plea for respect than a pure outpouring of soul.  He allows for more active accompaniment from longtime cohorts Dan Monti (bass/programming) and Brain (drums).  Monti’s drum programs are sometimes suitably nuanced (“Light”, “Trails Of Moondust”) but sometimes distracting (“Chase The Darkness Out”, “Tarantula Crossing”).

Production by Monti and "Albert" is one of their worst efforts yet; not a total bust, but all the more frustrating for how beautiful this album could’ve been.  They undermine the flow of the record a couple times with sloppy fades and cuts, and the digital drums are sometimes too forceful in the mix.  Thankfully, the guitar is always clear as a bell, never overpowered, and for the most part, as inspired as Buckethead has ever sounded.  Critics point to an overemphasis on technicality in his music over the years, but no such argument could be made here.  His playing is subtle, ranging over a multitude of styles, uninhibited and moving throughout, not a single grab for attention.  EO is a worthy successor to Buckethead’s most celebrated work, and a heartfelt tribute to one of his heroes; the title is a reference to Michael Jackson’s long-lost “4-D” film Captain EO, which reopened at Disneyland in February.  Something tells me Buckethead has been to Disneyland this year.
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