“Hey, this sounds like Joe Jackson! No, no, wait a minute... it’s a lost Frank Zappa tune! Yeah, that’s it – it’s... hold up – that’s Adrian Belew! Those guitar stunts could only be done by... err... now what it Dave Matthews doing here? Oh never mind... it doesn’t matter who it is when it’s THIS good!”
The above was the conversation that would’ve been going through this reviewer’s head had I not had Mike Keneally’s Dancing CD cover directly in front of me. Well-traveled guitarist Keneally – who’s played with none-too-shabby axemen such as Zappa, Eric Johnson, Steve Vai, and Joe Satriani – has released a CD so electic, so OUT THERE, that you’ll be amazed every song on the album is by the same guy. You’ll also be amazed that the quality of the music remains at quite a high level throughout the entire CD as well. From the “New York City” sounds of the Joe Jackson-esque opener “Live in Japan” to the straight ahead rocker “Backwards Debs” to the Fripp-ish “Taster,” Keneally and his band will take you on a musical journey that hits just about every stop on the rock and roll red line.
For Dancing Keneally has assembled an excellent group of musicians (going by the name “Beer for Dolphins”) to back him up – keyboardist Marc Ziegenhagen and drummer Jason Harrison Smith especially stand out from the crowd. However, it doesn’t take long to establish that Keneally himself is the star of this show with his incredible guitar chops in full effect throughout most of the CD. Especially mind-blowing is the “strap on the headphones and turn the mutha up to 11” force behind the fantastic instrumental “Lhai Shal,” which mixes head-banging lead guitar with some wonderfully arranged mallet percussion (I know – it sounds weird, but trust me... it ROCKS!)
There aren’t many weak points on Dancing - the only track of the 20 on the studio disc that I felt could’ve been left on the studio floor is “Joe” – a weak ballad that never quite gets off of the ground. But other than that, this disc is pure gold. Once you get to the closing track “Kedgeree” (which sounds more than a little like “21st Century Schizoid Man” at times) you’ll find yourself musically fulfilled and amazed that one man could write songs so different from one another, while still being accessible as well.
As I was given the “Special Edition” of Dancing to review, I also received the additional live disc Dancing With Myself, which is sort of a “Mike Keneally unplugged” type recording. Most of the songs on the live disc are just acoustic versions of the studio songs, and without the backing of a full electric band most of these tracks lose a lot of their punch. Only “Backwards Deb” stands out as a song that perhaps improved in the transition. There’s nothing really bad on the disc, just nothing worth shelling out the extra money for the “Special Edition”. The studio disc Dancing is really where all the action is.
Mike Keneally succeeds on just about every level on this release – he proves himself to be an efficient songwriter, as well as an excellent guitarist who can switch styles at a moment’s notice without losing any momentum whatsoever. Dancing would be an excellent addition to the collection of someone who loves both fusion AND pop music; actually, it would be an excellent addition to just about anyone’s CD collection! Well done, Mike!
Track Listing: DISC ONE "Dancing"1. Live in Japan (4:46), 2. Ankle Bracelet (4:35), 3. Poo-Tee-Weet? (0:42), 4. Backwards Deb (5:35), 5. We'll Be Right Back (8:16), 6. Joe (4:45), 7. Pretty Enough for Girls (6:47), 8. Taster (4:51), 9. Dancing (2:53), 10. Selfish Otter (4:15), 11. Only Mondays (2:03), 12. Lhai Sal (2:23), 13. The Mystery Music (2:26), 14. The Brown Triangles (2:13), 15. MM (0:31), 16. I Was Not Ready For You (3:20), 17. Ragged Ass (4:16), 18. Skull Bubbles (3:58), 19. Friends and Family (3:56), 20. Kedgeree (7:12)
DISC TWO "Dancing with Myself"1. I Was Not Ready For You (6:32), 2. Lonely Man (4:39), 3. Friends and Family (3:48), 4. Joe (5:51), 5. Live in Japan (4:50), 6. We'll Be Right Back (6:15), 7. I Will (1:30), 8. Apple Pie (1:09), 9. Backwards Deb (4:46), 10. Ankle Bracelet (5:59), 11. Dancing (3:20), 12. Lhai Sal (5:31), 13. Pretty Enough for Girls (6:24), 14. Only Mondays (2:33), 15. Kedgeree (9:46)
Personnel: Mike Keneally: Vox, Lead Guitar; Bryan Better: Bass; Marc Ziegenhagen: Keyboards; Jason Harrison Smith: Drums; Evan Francis: Alto sax, Flute; Chris Opperman: Trumpet; Tricia Williams: Percussion; Rick Musallam: Guitar