Steve “the Deacon” Hunter’s The Manhattan Blues Project (Deaconrecords (884501903240) is a superb and visionary exploration of the guitar that sets a mood and lends itself to repeated spins. Opening with “Prelude to the Blues” you can hear tender melodies from Alice Cooper’s “I Never Cry” slipping into the guitarlines while 222 W.23rd has a panther-like feel setting the tone perfectly for any upcoming spy movie interested in picking this up. Hunter whispers the song title as well as the word “electrified” in the middle of the song; that – and some Abbey Road-styled backing vocals on “Gramercy Park” – are the only voices this critic hears on the otherwise all instrumental disc.
Track 5 is a cover of Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill” and though Gabriel’s brilliance cannot be denied I tend to like the instrumental here better. The fact that Steve Hunter and his colleague, Dick Wagner, played on the former Genesis lead singer’s 1977 Car album, produced by Bob Ezrin, is notable as Hunter is probably the guitar player on the Peter Gabriel solo hit (or one of them as King Crimson’s Robert Fripp also appears on the Car lp).
There’s a marvelous rendition of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” with the feel very much like Alvin Lee’s essential “Real Life Blues” from his Zoom album. This is Hunter’s Zoom, a compact disc where the guitarmaster gets to be himself, just as Lee showed his mastery of the guitar as a blues instrument, one where the surgical precision of an intentionally dilatory performance displays the craft much more genuinely than being the “fastest guitarist alive” at Woodstock. The Deacon provides torturously slow creeping flourishes as on the final excursion, “Sunset In Central Park” or track 7, “Flames at the Dakota.” There are many Beatle-esque flashes – flavors from the aforementioned Abbey Road to George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass – while “Daydream by the Hudson” is perhaps modern day Paul Mauriat sans the orchestra.
On Track 8, the Brooklyn Shuffle, Johnny Depp, Aerosmith’s Joe Perry and Deacon Hunter all blend their guitar skills. What’s interesting is that that particular track deviates from the rest of the course charted here and stands out as the hardest rocking of the bunch. “Twilight in Harlem” features Joe Satriani and Megadeth’s Martin Adam “Marty” Friedman – it’s a sparkling yet pensive number that slinks in and then oozes out to “Sunset in Central Park.” The Deacon played on Aerosmith’s second album, Get Your Wings, so Perry returns the honor here. Musicians also include King Crimson’s Tony Levin, Phil Aaberg (of Elvin Bishop Group and Peter Gabriel) and Tommy Henriksen – currently with Hunter’s friend Alice Cooper, and bassist/guitarist/engineer/associate producer on Alice’s sequel, Welcome 2 My Nightmare – which features Hunter as well, of course.
To date The Manhattan Blues Project is the best album I’ve heard and reviewed all year, and it goes without saying that a lot of CDs have come through my mailbox..
Joe Viglione is the Chief Film Critic at TMRZoo.com. He has written thousands of reviews and biographies for AllMovie.com, Allmusic.com, Gatehouse Media, Al Aronowitz’s The Blacklisted Journal, and a variety of other media outlets. Joe also produces and hosts Visual Radio, a seventeen year old variety show on cable TV which has interviewed Jodie Foster, director/screenwriter David Koepp, Michael Moore, John Cena, comics/actors Margaret Cho, Gilbert Gottfried, Gallagher, musicians Mark Farner and Don Brewer of Grand Funk Railroad, Ian Hunter of Mott The Hoople, Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, Felix Cavaliere of The Rascals, political commentator Bill Press and hundreds of other personalities.