"Blacklight Sonatas" (Magnatude; 2007)

Reviewed by R. Scott Bolton

Seventeen years passed between Michael Lee Firkins self-titled debut and 2007's "Blacklight Sonatas." Based on Mr. Kelter's review of said debut below, I'd say that Michael Lee Firkins has changed a bit during those nearly two decades.

First and foremost, let me make this very clear: Michael Lee Firkins is an amazing guitarist. There are more levels of emotion and more genre-melding on this CD than I would have expected. Firkins is one of those few guitarists who can make his guitar sing. In fact, there are a couple of moments when you find yourself tilting your head, listening more closely, trying to decide whether that was a human voice or a nice piece of guitar work. (By the way, it's always a nice piece of guitar work). He is truly and amazing talent and, I'm certain, his talent has only grown since the release of his 1990 debut.

How has he changed then? Well, without having heard Firkins' debut (at least in many, many years) I can only use Mr. Kelter's review of the 1990 CD as the basis for mine. Whereas Mr. Kelter said that the self-titled album from nearly two decades ago had a "hard-rockin' foundation," "Backlight Sonatas" does not, at least not quite so much. Although it does feature the country, jazz and blues riffs that appeared on his first CD, it's much more of a rock / blues CD than a hard rock CD. In other words, it's more Stevie Ray Vaughn than Vinnie Moore. And there's nothing wrong with that. I only mention it so that when someone goes out to pick up this CD, and any fan of guitar instrumental work should, they know what they're getting. 

Firkins has listed among his influences Lynyrd Skynyrd, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, and Black Sabbath. "Backlight Sonatas" is more reminiscent of the former. It features some truly astonishing guitar, both riffs and leads runs, and it flows nicely, something that's not always true about an instrumental album. In addition, it includes a stunning and fun cover of "The Streetbeater" by Quincy Jones, which is better known as the theme from television's "Sanford and Son." Again, fans of instrumental guitar albums will want to add this unique album to their collection. Those expecting shredding leads (although the leads here are pretty awesome) and heavy metal bombast should probably look elsewhere.

For more information, check out http://www.michaelleefirkins.com

"Michael Lee Firkins" (Shrapnel; 1990)

Reviewed by Christopher J. Kelter

Michael Lee Firkins has never really broken out to popular success despite his wealth of talent – the fickle music-buying public doesn’t know what they are missing. Music lovers in general and guitar fanatics in particular should not go without Michael Lee Firkins in their CD collections.

Firkins has chops galore and it shows in the varied songs he’s able to construct for this debut. Firkins takes the time to add blues licks, country riffs, and even a touch of jazz to the hard rockin’ foundation of these nine instrumental tracks. The stately “24 Grand Avenue,” the inventive rocker “Space Crickets,” the high energy romp of “Rain In The Tunnel,” and the blues vamp of “Deja Blues” are four examples of his wide-ranging ability to coax sound, attitude, and concise songs from his well of talent.

The most amazing thing about Firkins’ debut is that there are no keyboards, synthesizers, or slide guitar although your ears will be deceived – such is the talent that Firkins brings to his debut.

Firkins’ debut sounds like Vinnie Moore’s “Out Of Nowhere” although his debut precedes Moore’s album by at least a year. Even better than that, Firkins has the fluid ability to meld his songs from molten melodies that move easily from riffs to solos – it even approaches the Satriani-like creed that the melody is the solo.

Michael Lee Firkins is joined by Jeff Pilson (Dokken) on bass, and James Kottak on drums. Mooka Rennick played bass on “The Sargasso Sea.”

For more information, check out http://www.michaelleefirkins.com

Rating Guide:

A classic. This record will kick your ass.

Killer. Not a classic but it will rock your world.

So-so. You've heard better.

Pretty bad. Might make a nice coaster.

Self explanatory. Just the sight of the cover makes you wanna hurl.


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Copyright © 2008 by R. Scott Bolton. All rights reserved.
Revised: 10 Jan 2019 01:27:04 -0500 .