What’s to do under quarantine but to knuckle down and bang out some tunes? (Provided you have the equipment). We can assume acclaimed axeman Joe Satriani finished up his latest record Shapeshifting well in advance of any sort of group gathering being rendered impossible, providing the world with another collection of instrumentals to zone out to, dig into and make the world as it stands a little less dreary and worrisome.
Said to exhibit a “wide variety of styles”, Satriani’s seventeenth opens up rocking with “Shapeshifting”, jamming blues and metal licks over a calculated 6/8 pattern in keeping with much of his prior instrumental catalogue. “Big Distortion” comes a bit more punky and glammy as a pretext to more soaring solo sections, shifting to more somber tones in “All for Love”. “Ali Farka, Dick Dale, an Alien and Me” promises an eclectic mix of influences from its title alone and delivers, seeing Satriani appropriately surfing the cosmos over an infectious beat and a cornucopia of slight digital smidgens embedded throughout. The soulful, blues-heavy “Teardrops” is far more direct and minimal in comparison.
Nothing if not versatile, Satriani then leaps towards a sophisticated “Call Me The Breeze”-esque boogie on “Perfect Dust”, launching from there into 80s metal shredding on a straight-ahead rock groove on “Nineteen Eighty”, true to the given name. “All My Friends Are Here” provides a happy contrast to the likes of “All for Love” and “Teardrops”, working into a colourful mid-section for Satriani to make even brighter and more vivid. “Spirits, Ghosts and Outlaws” predictably strikes a darker tone, with “Falling Stars” opting for the slow groove over the drive and shreddable backdrop of previous tracks instead.
“Waiting” scales down even further with tender piano and sounds of children playing, a comment or retrospective on life perhaps with just the right touch of heart applied to the neck overtop. “Here The Blue River” continues the showcase of Satriani’s diversity of styles, venturing headlong into reggae with a shredder’s touch. Concluding Satriani’s whirlwind tour is yet another surprise: a folk tune entitled “Yesterday’s Yesterday”, opening with whistles and consisting of acoustic plucks and strums without an amp or jack to be found until 2/3 through. Even then, the electric additions are mild, and nor should they be anything more- leading to a conclusion of picking, whistling and clapping demonstrating even the most complex player can be capable of bare-bones minimalism when the song calls for it- the mark of a true artist.
Shapeshifting is a wonderful addition to the Joe Satriani catalogue. While the main attraction is and will always be Satriani’s impeccable guitar skills, what is demonstrated here is the artistic depth that sets him apart from many of his contemporaries from the 80s and since; jumping from metal to blues to reggae to folk to outer space shred-guitar reggaeton and everything in between. Appropriately named, and appropriately done. One can trust Satriani has the necessary resources to cook out another one of these from home, and let’s hope he does, and does it even better.