If there’s a major takeaway to be had from listening to guitarist Lyle Workman’s Uncommon Measures, it’s the palpable sense that all of his impressive musical experience has been poured into it. And to that end, Workman certainly doesn’t bury the lead. The epic opening track “North Star” can single-handedly make sense of Workman’s entire decades-long resume. It’s a CV that includes working in and with bands (Bourgeois Tagg, Jellyfish, Frank Black), being a “hired gun” guitarist (with such icons as Todd Rundgren, Sting and Beck), session guitar work on numerous recordings, producing other artists, and extensive work scoring for film, television and online resources.
The lushness of the music on this album is not exactly a surprise, as it was something that was always intimated (and often achieved) on his three previous solo efforts—Purple Passages (Infrared,1996), Tabula Rasa (Infrared, 2001) and Harmonic Crusader (Infrared, 2009). The difference being that where Workman’s expansive orchestral mind had been somewhat funneled into smaller formats, voiced by synthesizers, or merely augmented by strings on those previous albums, the compositions on Uncommon Measures are afforded much grander realizations with a full orchestra employed throughout. This puts the album in a slightly rarified class, as there have been precious few orchestral forays of this depth by a guitar polymath of Workman’s caliber since those most famously mounted by Frank Zappa and John McLaughlin. But just as McLaughlin’s and Zappa’s orchestral efforts produced wholly different results, Workman’s are similarly all his own.
Despite the free mingling of different styles, it would be inaccurate to describe the amalgam on Uncommon Measures as either genre-busting or beyond genre, for it definitely can ascribe to different genres as much as blend them—(the symphonic may give way to a rock vibe, which in turn sits next to quasi-funk groove that leads to fusion-esqe jaunt that’s just as likely to include a quick passage of Tele-style fingerpicking, etc.). This all may seem a mess in the abstract but it nonetheless blooms quite organically in Workman’s hands. It does behoove the listener to have open ears at the ready though, for Workman’s musical imagination clearly has no locked doors.
It’s also evident that while Workman is a guitarist / composer who has no problem expressing himself by means of other instruments on Uncommon Measures, he’s also just as likely to put his massive guitar talents front and center when appropriate. This is a treat as he’s certainly possessed of unique abilities on the instrument. He can play with the kind of speed to make a shredder blush or elicit tears with aria-like soaring to rival even Jeff Beck. Just as magnetic though, (and integral to all of this), is Workman’s use of slide guitar throughout. He counts among a mere handful of players who wield its expressiveness almost wholly outside its most familiar roots/blues context.
Joining in are a host formidable allies—including Vinnie Colaiuta, Tim Lefebvre, Matt Chamberlain, Greg Leisz, Toss Panos, and Jeff Babko—that rotate through the core band and leave their distinctive marks on different tracks. This certainly serves to heighten things, but in the end the show is unquestionably Workman’s as the focus cannot be wrangled from his depth of ability in so many of the musical realms touched on this record.
As the fourth addition to his solo catalog, Uncommon Measures not only continues Workman’s consistently upward build upon his previous works, but thoroughly expands the possibilities of those releases to which the term “guitarist meets orchestra” applies. The remaining tantalizing prospect is where this continued trajectory might take him next.
North Star; All The Colors Of The World; Noble Savage; Arc Of Life; Imaginary World; Unsung Hero; Labyrinth Of Love; Rise And Shine; Our Friendship.
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