Larry Carlton

Fire Wire

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Issued in Japan in 2005, Larry Carlton's Fire Wire was issued stateside in March of 2006. This is a kind of continuation the Sapphire Blue session from 2004. Where the former album used a textured approach to the blues, many of the tunes here are in your face. They are mostly uptempo, funky, and tough, though some of them are moody and dark. And while "blues" are ever present here, they seem to inform Carlton's more rocking style on this offering. What's more, unlike some of his more commercial and fusion oriented projects, this one engages rock directly with a keen lyrical sensibility. Keyboardist Jeff Babko seems to be a key collaborator on these tracks. His big fat synthetic backdrop provides ballast for the rhythm section -- bassist Michael Rhodes and drummer Matt Chamberlain -- and a big enough jump-off point for Carlton to do his considerable stuff both riffing and filling the spaces. "Inkblot 11" roars out of the gate with Carlton stereo riffing alternately with the four-piece horn section that makes it groove. "Double Cross" touches on the blues, but it's funkier, especially when the guitar lines and Babko's Rhodes play in tandem and then Carlton goes for the power chords. "Surrender" is a smoky little blues rocker that sounds like a postmodern tribute to Peter Green. "Naked Truth" references Jimi Hendrix's "Castles Made of Sand" in the opening moments and becomes its own distorted lyric ballad. The big crunch returns in "Big Trouble," courtesy of Carlton's stereo guitar, and Csaba Petocz's in-the-red production. This is one of those tracks where the guitar just screams and screams of simple heavy rock vamps but who cares? It kicks butt. The funk returns on "Dirty Donna's House Party," with horns and keyboards popping all over the mix. Carlton's in the high register doing some serious string bending. The record closes with the abstractly moody jazz-funk number. It's an odd cut, but when it hits its groove, one can see why it was chosen to end the set. Carlton is simply loose, pushing the dials up and Babko supports him in the same way Jan Hammer supported Jeff Beck, filling spaces for the rhythm section to jump on, putting the vamp in the back instead of the front, and accelerating things in the middle so Carlton can just let loose -- and he does. Fire Wire isn't the most imaginative or creatively challenging record Carlton has ever made, but it is loose, reckless, and fun; he must have had a ball making it, but you'd never know it by the cover.

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