Album Review: Joe Satriani – Shapeshifting

Before I get onto the review, a note (in case you didn’t know) that Satriani’s May UK tour dates have been pushed back to April/May 2021 for obvious reasons. Existing tickets are still valid for the new dates. OK, the new music…

With a Satchmo album you both know what you expect and you don’t. There’s always going to be a huge variety of styles, it’s just guesswork as to which of the many areas of the guitar spectrum he’s going to hit us with on any given release. The one thing that rarely (if ever) results is disappointment. Spoiler: this is not a disappointing album!

As with the vast majority of his releases, this is a purely musical effort with no vocals featuring a lucky baker’s dozen of guitar based rock tracks. I thought the opening number, the title track, was good (funky, boogy with soaring solos) until the recently-released balls-out rocker “Big Distortion” came on next. Raucous and toe-tapping, this is as good as modern era Satriani gets. I doubt anything will hit the heights of “Surfing With The Alien”, but that’s just my old stuck-in-the-past biased self talking. “Big Distortion” is a big rock track with simple riffs and rhythms woven together in a complex way. Nothing new from Satriani there, then.

“All For Love” is, perhaps unsurprisingly, more plaintive given the title. It sounds familiar to older material, but in a good way, and the fretwork even on this laid back track is incredible. I’d love to know the story behind the title of “Ali Farka, Dick Dale, an Alien and Me”, and a quick Google reveals that Farka was a Malian singer and guitarist who died in 2006. There is a definite African rhythm to the drumbeats and Dick Dale was the progenitor of the “surf” guitar sound which overlays these. This is one of these combinations that’s perhaps been waiting to happen for decades and it’s taken Satchmo to finally fuse them together.

“Teardrops” is as melancholic as you would expect, and surprisingly one of my top tracks on the album as it just seems more emotive than the others. It flips into “Perfect Dust” which wouldn’t be out of place on a country LP. See what I mean about Satriani’s ability to skip all over the place musically? “Nineteen Eighty” is superb, and could almost pass for AC/DC with the guitar tones used in the opening flurry. It’s definitely a homage to the rock records of that era without being a direct rip of any of them, and the track that sounds most like the earlier material of which I’m most fond.

Another change of pace for “All My Friends Are Here” which crams one of the best riffs on the album – a simple chord-hopping ditty – with multiple rambling solos. “Spirits, Ghosts and Outlaws” is a grumbling hard rock number designed for the road hog, while “Falling Stars” lets the bass plunking come to the fore with its easy-going lilting notes.

The album comes to a conclusion through “Waiting”‘s gentle flow, “Here the Blue River”‘s funky tones and “Yesterday’s Yesterday” which should bring a skip to anyone’s step. A bouncy little banjo-esque number which demands to be played when the sun is shining.

To wrap back to the start – this is a typical collection from the master of guitar instrumentals. With backing musicians who know how to let the six strings take credit while not being belittled themselves, this is a wonderfully varied album and one which will delight Satriani fans old and new.

Header image by Joseph Cultice

Shapeshifting is due for release on April 10th. Order from Amazon to help support this site!

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March 17, 2021 6:57 PM

[…] latest studio album, Shapeshifting, originally released April 2020 (and reviewed here) via Sony Music/Legacy Recordings, features the radio tracks “Nineteen Eighty” and […]