Anyone who believes instrumental releases are inherently limited by the absence of a lead singer will do themselves a huge favor listening to Little Muddy. Rich Goldstein and his changing cast of collaborations over the last twenty-plus years have distinguished the band as one of the best and most surprising purveyors of traditional guitar music with a modern sound working today. The fact that Goldstein has sustained this project through multiple peaks and valleys without his passion ever flagging in an audible way testifies to his abiding all-around self-confidence.
It’s easy to hear it. The first song of Little Muddy’s new release, Chain Link, is its title song and it throws down an undeniable early gauntlet. His muscular guitar playing gets added push from drummer Mark Abbott’s sterling time-keeping. Abbott gives the title song some swing, of course, but it derives such impetus from the way he attacks the drums that the song gathers elemental force.
His percussive swing is a big reason for the success of songs such as “Groove Town”. Goldstein intends for this track to break a bit with the dominant demeanor of his material in favor of a more relaxed and life-affirming vibe. “Groove Town” hits its mark – it has much of the same raw-boned physicality as the title track opener, but it’s leaner, cut closer to the bone. “In the Distance You’ll See” is the first acoustic gem and a welcome change of pace early in the release. Little Muddy doesn’t limit themselves to a boilerplate style for their softer side and it gives this track an exotic tone it might have otherwise lacked.
“Slow Time” is another of Chain Link’s highlights. Many listeners will especially enjoy the build, the gradual escalation, and it pays off in a big way. The second part of “Slow Time” takes a perhaps unexpected swing upwards as Little Muddy gathers the full force of its inspiration for some blinding passages. The inspired work during the second half of the song is worth the price of purchase alone. A playful edge comes out for the track “Triple Agent” and the reverb-spiked guitar work rife throughout the song gives it a nervy and unsettled angle.
The echo laid over Abbott’s drumming during “Night Highway” gives it an additional dramatic atmosphere. There’s a real sense of stakes surrounding this song; it feels like someone on the wrong side of the law rolling down a well-lit highway in the dead of night. It’s furtive, desperate, and dangerous. He achieves some of the same effects during the finale “Route 51 South”, but it’s filtered through a much more bluesy filter. The go-for-broke attitude that’s present in every line of Goldstein’s guitar work gains so much more from the production.
It’s a fine way to end Chain Link. Goldstein and the other members of Little Muddy marshal several different styles to deliver a memorable and cohesive statement. Instrumental releases rarely get the attention they deserve, but Little Muddy’s latest release deserves the widest possible audience.
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