According to Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008 book Outliers, it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in any chosen field. If that’s the case, then axeman Jamie Thyer has more than clocked the requisite practice. Since hooking up with rhythm section The Worried Men back in 1994 he’s gigged relentlessly alongside the likes of Robert Cray, Wilko Johnson and Jefferson Starship.
That diligence is obvious on Excelsior, a 10-track collection that runs the gamut from smoking bar-room blues to catchy rockers to high-octane instrumentals. But hard graft is only part of it – because ultimately this is an album fuelled by genuine feeling. Sure, the technical proficiency might take your breath away, but everywhere you turn the storytelling rings true. As emotional rollercoasters go, it’s about as entertaining as it gets.
Melodic sensibility is key to icebreaker Aces and Eights, an instantly accessible hard rock slice that tells of stars exploding into northern lights – lyrics matched by some smouldering finger work. That raunchy, characterful style is continued on the ZZ Top-ish Manacle Alley and the equally toe-tapping Mr Make Believe. But Thyer’s introspective side is fully showcased too, not least on The Cat That Walks By Themself, a serious, Gershwin-tinged blues number complete with oh-so-sultry vocals from Julie Richards.
Maybe, though, it’s the instrumentals that really get under the skin. Meadow Stone is an upbeat thriller that would sit perfectly as a theme for a prime time TV sports event. Dangerous Vision, meanwhile, is a pared-back, much more melancholy affair while the dramatic Nova invokes images of the lone hero approaching across a dusty plain with red skies fuming in the distance. And if that’s not enough to tempt movie producers into giving this man a soundtrack commission, pensive curtain-closer Uno Mas is just the sort of thing that might keep you rooted to your cinema seat as the final credits roll.
While guitar greats can have a tendency to over-indulge, Thyer fires short, sweet bullets of blues with expert aim. All in all it’s a slick, likeable affair built on proper musicality and true sentiment.
Practice is one thing but there’s no accounting for magic dust – and Excelsior certainly comes with a healthy sprinkling of that.
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