Here’s my question: when is Jeff Beck going to be recognized as the genius vocalist that he is?
Or rather, when is Jeff Beck’s guitar going to be recognized as the genius vocalist that it is?
Though several of the cuts on Beck’s new Emotion & Commotion feature guest throats, the true lead voice is that of the Fender Strat he favors these days. Consider the opening cut, an instrumental version of Jeff Buckley’s “Corpus Christi Carol.” Beck plays against an orchestral backdrop, deceptively simple-sounding with a tone that’s absolutely pure. It’s the subtleties that get you; the flick of a fingertip that enunciates certain syllables or the pause that mimics the taking of a breath. The result is more the sound of a voice than an instrument.
Don’t worry, shredheads: there’s squonk a’plenty on Emotion & Commotion as well. Early on, Beck works some wonka-wonka wah pedal nastiness on “Hammerhead” before letting things soar and spin and divebomb. Joss Stone lays down a gutsy vocal on Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put A Spell On You” with Beck weaving in tasteful blasts of blueswail. “Never Alone” features a beautifully-cascading Latin-flavored lead over top of Jason Rebello’s keys. On a couple of cuts (“Serene” and “Elegy For Dunkirk”), opera singer Olivia Safe lets her voice dance with Beck’s Strat – total comrades in sound, whether it be against a funk beat or a cushiony bed of strings.
And then there’s “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.” In lesser hands, this could’ve been a cliché-ridden squallfest: little snatches of melody spliced together with wild-ass torrents of sound. Dig the veteran who lays it all out simply and perfectly, however; with subtle massaging of the tremolo arm, gentle swells on the volume control, and the tips of his fingers working the strings, Beck’s Strat covers little Judy Garland with enough soul to make anyone whisper, “There’s no place like home, Toto.” Sure, the man mastered the art of controlled distortion a lonnnggg time ago, but make no mistake about it – it’s the flesh against wire, the feel and the emotion, that make Jeff Beck sound like … well, Jeff Beck.
Emotion & Commotion finds the almost-66-year-old Beck tackling musical challenges as fiercely as he did with, say, The Yardbirds all those years ago. Yeah, he’s been doing this for a while, but when Jeff Beck opens up and lets it all hang out – whether in a moment of gentleness or a full-blown gale of sound – the passion is still there.
What a voice.