Joel Sahlin - Green Light

(CD 2012, 55:14, Indie GLCD101)

The tracks:
  1- Bjarne/Intro
  2- Green Light
  3- Mind Errors
  4- Teasin'
  5- Interlude
  6- The Independence
  7- The Bender
  8- Maybe
  9- Song For Neal

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Green Light is the debut album of the Swedish guitarist Joel Sahlin. His music is almost completely instrumental and should be placed in the area of rock blended with other genres like jazz-rock, fusion and improvisation. With the formation of a band consisting of Stefan Jernståhl (keyboards), Johan Bengtsson (bass) and Jonas Lidholm (drums), a long wished dream of Sahlin came true: the recording of his first CD. On Green Light a number of guest musicians playing brass and strings participate as well, providing the music an additional flavour.

The Intro of the album is a short combination of a soft guitar, keyboards and dissonant drums in the background. The first band that crossed my mind were Dutch band Focus of the seventies era. Next is the album's title track, sounding slightly more towards the bluesy side of rock like Thomas Blug for instance as far as the style of guitar playing is concerned. Joel Sahlin has a nice and fluent style; don't expect a million notes in a minute, he's more concentrated on atmosphere. The guest vocalist on this song is Linda Sundblad, who I remembered from Apocalyptica's Faraway. Unfortunately her smooth and angelic voice doesn't come to life in Green Light; it has changed into a kind of computer voice. However, the bluesy and twangy guitar still sounds perfect.

With more than eight minutes Mind Errors is one of the longest pieces of the album sounding quite similar to Jan Akkerman (Focus), especially when he's not only focussing on the guitar, but also on the accompanying drums and bass. They're equally important in this soft fusion track. The other influence I noticed is Frank Gambale, however the credits go to the rhythm section for the perfect groove of this piece. Teasin' introduces a funky combination of guitar and keyboards. In this swinging composition the addition of a brass section is a well-made choice which gives it a nice retro feel, but also a funky blues feel due to the impressive keyboard solo. Then Sahlin slows down with an acoustic guitar Interlude. I still hear touches of Focus and Akkerman in the music, but with a Swedish twist. Due to guest keyboardist Gustaf Karlöf this song differs from the others, but is still impressive and fusion-like but it lacks the structure I liked in the previous songs.

With The Independence Sahlin is back on the right track. The guitar and Stefan Jernståhl's keyboards are back to restore the pleasant feelings in this happy grooving song. A bit more speed in Sahlin's guitar playing shows his technical skills, but the melodies are still nice and fluent. Lidholm's drums are powerful and insistently present filling the gaps wherever he can. The Bender returns to the retro keyboard sound and this time the guitar sound reminds of seventies-era Jeff Beck. In this song the band really sounds as a unity. It feels as if these musicians have been playing together all of their lives. They all get room to shine and you can almost hear the mutual respect through this jam-like composition. In Maybe, the focus is on a soft combination of a twangy surf guitar with an easy beat, while smooth keyboards provide the atmosphere.

The album's final piece is Song For Neal, a kind of ode to guitarist Neal Schon, who was very influential to Joel Sahlin. Schon is best known for his membership of Journey, but he's also a solo artist blending new age sounds with jazz and fusion on several albums. This song has those nice sustained notes that Neal Schon is famous for, but the addition of Sahlin's own style of playing the rhythm guitar makes sure that you get the best of both worlds.

Green Light is an impressive debut album of this Swedish musician, who has proved to be a capable guitar player. His mixture of different musical styles works really well. I was slightly disappointed when I didn't hear the proper vocals of Linda Sundblad, but even without the addition of her voice the song was still impressive. The band play as tight as you can wish for and you can also hear the fun in their music. To me this is an unexpected diamond and I'm already looking forward to the second album.

**** Pedro Bekkers (edited by Peter Willemsen)

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