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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Marco Sfogli - There's Hope

There are a lot of hot new guitarists these days from Italy: Alessandro Benvenuti, Massimo Izzizzari who are both using Greg Howe’s legato phrasing style, as well as long time guitar veterans Filippo Marcheggiani of Banco del Mutuo Soccorso, Alex Masi, Gianluca Ferro who has played with Time Machine and Heart Of Sun, Fabrizio Leo who plays with the modern fusion trio Citriniti, and the lesser known artists Marco Ferrigno and William Stravato. And that’s only naming a few. I’ve heard bits and pieces of Sfogli’s work on other CDs, such as Alex Argento’s solo CD, and James LaBrie’s “Elements of Persuasion” and he's played on a few others. Marco Sfogli proves on this album that he has the chops to compete with the best of the best from around the world.

I think that every guitarist dreams of one day releasing a solo CD. I get a lot of these in the mail and many of them are, unfortunately, mediocre at best. I’m happy to report that this is NOT one of them! The poor ones typically seem to fall in one of two categories: The first type is nothing but endless soloing over vanilla-sounding background music. Many albums come to mind here over the years, but perhaps the biggest stinker I can think of in this category is Michael Harris’ “Hurricane X”. The second category of boring solo guitar CDs tend to be technically proficient guitarists who make overly-artistic albums that for whatever reason fail to entertain or excite the listener. Any instrumental guitar CD these days has got to be top notch in order to hold a listener’s interest. That means they’ve got to show style with a good balance of originality, technique, as well as displaying songwriting talent that’s more than just bland music set to a 4/4 drum computer.

Now on to the album. “There’s Hope” kept my interest and held it throughout. What you can expect here, according to his press release, is "11 tracks with a mix of influences Marco has absorbed since he took up the guitar at age 9." That’s a pretty good overview. He’s carefully studied all of the greats, and he plays them on this album like a montage. Elements of John Petrucci, Joe Satriani, Greg Howe, Dave Martone, and to a lesser extent Steve Vai can all be heard here. His biggest strength is that his technique is flawless. He can play technically impossible phrases with seeming ease. The biggest problem here is that he lacks his own unique playing style.

The first track, “Still Hurts,” is a great opener and features a nice keyboard solo by Labrie’ solo CD veteran and Dali’s Dilemma keyboardist’ Matt Guillory. The 2nd track, “Andromeda,” is a tip of the hat to Satch and one of the more forgettable songs on the album though it has some jaw-dropping John Petrucci-esque moments on it. “Seven” is a nice slower track that starts with acoustic piano and an accompanying guitar melody. The title track, “There’s Hope” is easily one of my favorites on this CD. If somebody played this for me without telling me who it was, my first guess would be that it came from John Petrucci. “Spread the Disease” is a great blues shuffle that sounds like something Dave Martone would write. “Farewell” is a page from Joe Satriani’s songbook, and is one of the 4/4 cookie-cutter songs that you probably hear on one too many guitarist’s solo albums. It's a good thing it is short. “Genius” is a heavy, ferocious number that also appears on Alex Argento’s latest solo CD (Alex plays keys on the track). It has a Planet X vibe and is one of my favorites on the album. “Sunset Lights” is another piece that is all over the map in showing Sfogli’s wide range of influences, including some legato runs in the style of Greg Howe. Otherwise it’s not a very memorable song. “Never Forget Me” is another slower ballad track that falls into the Pertucci mold somehow. “Memories” is a slow, beautiful piano/guitar duet that reminds me of Brett Garsed. The final track “Texas BBQ” is a fast-paced country-dixie style 2-step that is not far off from Steve Morse or the Dixie Dregs. This one is fun. Other guitarists such as Guthrie Govan, Joel Hoekstra, and Dave Martone have included such country romps on their CDs so we might expect Sfogli to follow suit.

I liked this CD in general and think that what Sfogli lacks in originality he makes up for in technique. He’s an excellent guitarist with monster chops and those who like to hear this sort of jaw-dropping playing, and fans of John Petrucci in particular, should find his CD interesting. Sfogli shows strong songwriting at times, but some songs come across to me as ‘just another guitarist’s solo CD.’ His weaker songs are a patchwork of his influences that never show us Sfogli is original enough to stand out from the crowd. This is not an ‘essential’ album, and I hope that Marco Sfogli will work to show us a more original style in the future. He seems to have a great chemistry with keyboardist Alex Argento, and I hope they two of them continue to work together on future albums.

Marco Sfogli's Official Website


BG said...

I'm not so much into Italian stuff, basically because of not understanding the lyrics. But since this is instrumental (I assume) I might give it a try....

Anyways, a nice post...
just a thought.... We should have a link from Progulus to try to increase the audience...and get some more interaction (comments)...but I don't know if that's possible...

MVunit3 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MAVIII said...

Hi Lamneth,
I have been enjoying your reviews, and I am sorry I haven't been able to respond, "Life" has set its obstacles, so its been hard to get back to this wonderful Forum.

As far as Lyrics in a Foreign language, that has never bothered me, since being raised on Latin Musics and in my later years discovering World Music, and I can usually decipher the lyrics or "vibe" of the Vox.
What I have been losing interest in though is the "Instrumental", namely the shredding of Solo Artists. I used to try to buy every "Shrapnel" recording Artist (LP's), but after awhile, I hate to admit, they all started to blend, with very few exceptions. But artists like: Allan Holdsworth; Steve Vai; Eric Johnson; Jeff Beck; Marty Friedman; Chris Poland; Michael Manring, Ron Jazarmbek; Steve Morse and a few others for me, were keeping things interesting.
But what I came to respect were the "Lyrical" Bands like Rush; Kansas; ELP; Frost; Yes; Lemur Voice; Zappa; Suncaged and many others, had the years under their belt creating "Songs", so these instrumentals were like interludes to their repertoire.
Then you have newer bands like: Canvas Solaris, Behold...The Artopus; Spastic Ink; Gordian Knot; Continuo Renacer and others taking it and turning it on its head!

It is in times like these you have to be an exceptional musician to keep our interests among the Ocean of soloists and bands. And if you are a musician, you need to listen whats out there, to see if you stand out when you walk out that door. But this pressure is a good thing, it will help to push the bounderies of your ability ...
we can only hope ;)
(forgive if i missed a fave band)