Multi-instrumentalists Scott Rockenfield and Paul Speer have teamed up to release Hells Canyon, a CD of tracks inspired by the mystique surrounding its namesake – the deepest gorge in North America. Speer and Rockenfield’s attempts at capturing the enigma of Hells Canyon and translating it into music are successful at times, but for the most part the tracks on the CD aren’t anywhere near as deep as the gorge itself.
Hells Canyon is comprised mainly of instrumental guitar-driven tracks, with Speer’s “Symphony of Voices” samples adding some depth and eeriness to the tracks. The musicianship (especially the guitar playing) is excellent throughout, and songs such as the techno-tinged “Coyote” and the airy “China’s Last Stand” are great compositions that capture the feel and essence of the Hells Canyon region. The CD insert contains some stories that go along with the tracks (a nice addition), and reading these passages will help the listener determine whether or not the story is being properly represented musically. In my opinion, Rockenfield Speer’s success was mixed in this endeavor – sometimes (as in the two aforementioned tracks) they create music that can truly transport your mind, while other tracks such as the somewhat repetitive “Seven Devils” and the blues-inspired “Buffalo Eddy” fall a little short.
The most glaring problem with this release is in its overall “sameness”. I understand that the tracks on Hells Canyon are supposed to have a similar feel to one another, but I feel that they were a bit too similar. This can mostly be attributed to guitar riffs that are repeated a bit too often (“River of No Return” is a prime example), and the almost overbearing use of the “Symphony of Voices” effects. Songs such as “Red Torrent,” with its excellent drum passages and interesting guitar work show what this band is capable of, but too often on Hells Canyon they fail to maximize their potential.
So, while Hells Canyon is by no means a BAD release, it can be a frustrating one at times given the obvious talent that this band possesses. I hope that on their next release, Rockenfield Speer try to diversify musically by exploring other sounds and holding back on the gimmicky “Symphony of Voices” keyboards. I’m sure that these musicians can be successful with more varied styles of music, and I look forward to their next release.
Track Listing: 1. Descent (0:33), 2. Seven Devils (3:41), 3. Chant of the Fathers (3:09), 4. Snake Dance (4:37), 5. Crossing to Freedom (3:15), 6. Coyote (6:04), 7. Red Torrent (4:06), 8. River of No Return (4:55), 9. China
Personnel: Scott Rockenfield: drums, percussion, keyboards; Paul Speer: guitar, bass guitar, keyboards,