Bradford – The Ninth Ring

While I was in Quebec City last summer, I saw a street musician playing a table of wine glasses, each arranged to a particular pitch and also arranged on the table in such a way to make it (relatively) easy to produce melodies, harmonies, chords, and bass lines. “Easy,” of course, meaning easy if you knew what you were doing.

Denver-based guitarist Bradford certainly knows what he’s doing. You don’t have to get very far into his first CD, “The Ninth Ring,” to appreciate that he is someone who has developed some very serious guitar skills. He can certain shred with the best of them.

But fortunately, he also has a great ear for melody, harmony and phrasing, which makes this CD a lot more interesting than most of the “hey-I’m-a-fast (very fast) -guitarist-who’s-put-together-a-CD-of-all-guitar-music” that you’ll find out there. That’s not to say that there isn’t a lot of fast shredding going on. But Bradford does a great job of making the technique serve the song and not vice versa. This especially vividly realized in “Sky Solo,” Witches Brew” and “Tonight.”

The down side of the CD is that, again like most guitar guys, he uses a lot of programming and loops. Don’t get me wrong – it sounds great. I just think it would sound even better if he had people to bounce musical ideas off of rather than machines.

Case in point – while all twelve tracks of “The Ninth Ring” are certainly worthwhile, my favorites are the last two: “THS” and “Legend.” Interestingly enough the first is one of Bradford’s earliest instrumentals, which, to me anyway, sounds like it was meant to be performed live, with a group of musicians. It’s a wild romp, cleverly using dazzling sweep picking and string skipping techniques over a rollicking blues / rockabilly rhythm. Guitar and bass lines soar and glide together, like jets at an air show. This is a perfect example of song and speed merging to create something absolutely stunning and wild. It’s pure fun!

Likewise, “Legend” is also a lot of fun in its own way. The guitar work is spare, serving a lovely hypnotic melody (synthesized marimba?) that sweeps you along in its wake. And it’s telling that (reading the liner notes after listening) this song received a good deal of reworking, courtesy of comments from Internet listeners. Being able to create the music oneself is a gift; making use of your listeners’ reactions often makes the gift greater.

Which is why, strange to say, while I like this CD a lot, I am looking forward to more from Bradford. He states in his liner notes that he considers this CD “the pinnacle of my own artistic expression up until now, both from a performance standpoint, but also from a songwriting and audio engineering standpoint.” Personally, what I hear on this disc points makes me think that there’s even better music to come. Here’s my hope that Bradford finds some musicians that he can work with to produce an organic masterpiece that will make him redefine his pinnacle.