Record Review - 2 September 04 2003

Is he an innovative blues/jazz rocker widening his scope or an elder statesman wanker desperately riding a contemporary wave?

Certainly Brit guitar legend and hot-rod enthusiast Jeff Beck hasn’t played it safe during his four-decade career: Morphing from Brit-invasion Yardbirds whippersnapper, to blues-rock slugger, to ’70s jazz-fusion pioneer, he has recently opted for a frigid, studio controlled sound seemingly at odds with his gutsy playing.

While in the past, the explosive guitarist tentatively accepted the techno format, he now seems comfortable, even inspired in its surroundings. Occasional cut-and-paste vocals along with production from Apollo 440 and Splattercell’s David Torn enhance and accentuate his strangulated tone. Beck blazes through these bleats and beats with the intensity of a grizzled blues-rocker and the determination of a scrappy NASCAR driver.

Doggedly balancing on this edgy, predominantly instrumental sonic tightrope, Beck puts the pedal to the metal on the sexy, overdriven “Grease Monkey” and “Hot Rod Honeymoon,” the latter augmented with juicy Beach Boys harmonies. There are nods to his past — “JB’s Blues” nudges Blow By Blow territory. And a few well-intentioned misfires — the funky “Pay Me No Mind” doesn’t quite click and the symphonic strings of “Why Lord Oh Why?” seem tacked on. But Jeff Beck circa 2003 remains a well-oiled, fine-tuned machine.

He — as opposed to his Austin Powers-era shag haircut-- has aged gracefully, hugging the electronic curves and embracing technology while perpetually honing his revved-up, nitro-fueled guitar attack.

Jeff Beck plays Chastain Park Amphitheatre Fri.-Sat., Sept. 5-6. $35.10-$82.18.