Adam Rafferty has been a busy man lately. No sooner does he release his instructional DVD How to Play the Music of STEVIE WONDER than he comes out with a new CD entitled Chameleon.
Adam Rafferty is certainly chameleon-like on this CD, in that he takes on different personae almost with each song. This is an eclectic collection of tunes with a very wide variety of styles from country to jazz to hip-hop and much in between. Mr. Rafferty's influences abound and these tend to show up in a straightforward way in the tunes. As he has acknowledged in the past, Adam has been greatly influence by Tommy Emmanuel, and Tommy's spirit pervades much of the CD, peeking out in some tunes while virtually shouting out in others.
The CD starts off with some fast yet delicate fingerpicking on Fernando's Banjo. This country-tinged tune gradually works in more banjo-inflected phrases until the ballad-like mood explodes into furious guitar chords. These give way to the more delicate banjo-like sounds that end the piece.
Next we are off to bossa nova territory with Mas Que Nada. Mr. Rafferty gives a lovely rendition of this bossa classic. His solo guitar keeps up a fine 'rhythm section' while allowing the melody to remain front and center.
A couple of Beatles tunes follow. These are arrangements unlike others you may have heard though. Got To Get You Into My Life adds a funky feel to the Beatles' arrangement, along with some dazzling chordal accents. It is wonderful how Adam Rafferty manages to explore the jazz possibilities of this song while staying utterly true to the original. A real standout track!
Next comes Eleanor Rigby, but this is Eleanor as you have never heard her before! While I cannot quite agree with the fan who dubbed this the "Apocalypse Now version" of the song, it is clear that Mr. Rafferty is drawing out the lyrical themes of the sad life of Eleanor Rigby and "all the lonely people". The harmonics here add both a softness and an other-worldliness that suits the mood perfectly. This track is a must hear!
We move from the introspection of Eleanor Rigby to the outright extraversion and showmanship of The Boogie Man. Do not let the title deceive you, because there is blues a-plenty in this tune, as well as some straight-out rock in addition to a generous helping of boogie. The dedication to Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and James Brown tells you all you need to know to prepare for this one, although hearing Tommy Emmanuel play Guitar Boogie might set you up for this as well.
Adam Rafferty describes Ciao Bella as "a bittersweet song whose title is laden with many hidden messages." The song certainly does sound that way, and perhaps some of those messages refer to other guitarists who have influenced him. Certainly there are phrases here that are highly reminiscent of Tommy Emmanuel, while others are pure Rafferty. The mood shifts between a kind of upbeat melancholy and a mildly swinging optimism. This one will keep you thinking.
If you have even heard of YouTube then you will know that Adam Rafferty has had several 'hits' with his videos there. Superstition is a big one, and so is She's Leaving Home, which was my initial introduction to this extraordinary guitarist. Another big hit has been his version of Billie Jean, a tour de force performance of the Michael Jackson classic. This track may well be the major hit of this CD, although it is not the only standout track. The best news is that Adam Rafferty is planning an instructional DVD of Michael Jackson tunes that only awaits permission from Mr. Jackson's estate. Fingers crossed on that!
From the King of Pop we move back to straight-ahead solo jazz with a fine version of Sweet Georgia Brown. A great mildly-funky intro leads us into a classic boom-chick version of this jazz classic. The turnarounds between verses are especially interesting with rich chords and rolls that make the most of the guitar's open strings.
Influenced by Bonnie Raitt's great version, I Can't Make You Love Me demonstrates how moving a simple guitar arrangement can be. Adam Rafferty's artistry truly shines in this touching ballad of unrequited love and loss. Yet another standout track.
The CD's title track Chameleon starts off with a jaunty bass riff and accompanying vocal percussion. Soon a melody weaves in to complete the one-man band effect. The wordless vocals are a great addition to the mix, as our musical chameleon shows that he can "do it all" - i.e. play the entire band, all the while keeping his bass and lead lines flowing. No wonder it winds down to its ending!
Tinkerbell's Dream is dedicated to Tommy Emmanuel, both in words and in a musical homage. This light and airy ballad is dedicated to a sweet cat, and it contains several "Tommy-esque" chord progressions and melodic decorations, once again with that special Rafferty touch. If you are a Tommy fan you will love this one.
Shelter Island continues in the chordal fingerpicking vein, and indeed sounds like it too could have been dedicated to Tommy Emmanuel, featuring chord progressions reminiscent of his playing as well as his "patented" pistol-like pull-offs. Again, if you are a Tommy fan (and who isn't?) this one is another treat.
A moody bass-chord riff starts off Harlem, a softly soulful blues tune. This is yet another homage, this time to the eponymous area of New York where Mr. Rafferty "earned his master's degree in 'grits and gravy.' " Obviously the learning stuck.
Little Fingers is another stylish fingerstyle song - bluesy, jazzy, funky, and pure Rafferty. Written as a dedication to the great Jerry Reed, this song has the rhythmic verve and vivacity that invigorates the late Mr. Reed's greatest guitar hits. This one shows off Adam Rafferty's light yet rhythmic touch on a very enjoyable tune.
Having been in a fingerstyle groove (more or less) for the last five songs, the finale is a nice surprise: George Gershwin's classic Someone To Watch Over Me. Here Adam Rafferty's impressive jazz credentials show themselves unequivocally. His arrangement is well conceived and his playing authoritative on a song he has obviously played innumerable times, and by his own admission in many different contexts. This is a fine ending to a very fine CD.
Adam Rafferty has been a favorite of my readers since my first review of his initial fingerstyle CD Gratitude. If you enjoyed that one, or even if you missed it (and you can still buy a copy, you know!), you will enjoy this one just as much. This CD is a fine sophomore effort that avoids the "sophomore curse" by being just as fine as his first, very impressive solo outing. As I predicted, Adam is growing as a songwriter and exploring new territory in his arranging as well as his writing. I expect that this will continue. Of course Adam Rafferty has had previous recordings with jazz groups, including his own, and he brings all of his experience and musicianship to this fine CD. You owe it to yourself to check this one out.
Chameleon will be released on September 1. If you are lucky enough to read this before then, you can still enjoy a video performance of Billie Jean while you wait, on Adam Rafferty's web site here (scroll down to mid-page). Watch this clip and then tell me you don't want to order the CD right away!
You can buy Chameleon at Adam Rafferty's web site: www.adamrafferty.com