With soulful instrumental versions of classics and a great contribution by the producer Narada Michael Walden, currently Journey’s drummer, Universe is the tenth solo album by Neal Schon. In a recent interview, Schon reveals that Narada directly contributed with six songs of the new album, including the self-titled track.
With instrumental albums, the challenges in expressing all the emotions, legattos, and all the shades of the human voice are always there. And, in situations like these, what counts is the “time of flying” of the musician… But these hurdles seem to be unrecognized by Schon, who easily bypassed them, as you can listen to in the first song “Something In The Heart”. “The Eye Of God” is a kind of interlude written and played by Schon where that emotive challenge that we mentioned before is considerably increased, once there are no drums or percussion in the track.
Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child” and “Third Stone From The Sun” were tracks recorded live and in a row in the studio. Lucio Dalla’s “Caruso” and Stevie Wonder’s “I Believe” are other tracks where Schon ably transformed the emotional original vocals into soulful guitar lines. The majority of the songs on the album were orchestrated by Minna Choi’s Magik*Magik orchestra. They did an amazing job, giving songs like “Lights” and “Silent Voyage”, the perfect background to highlight the guitar melodies. One exception is Prince’s “Purple Rain”, which counted with the orchestration of Gary Cirimelli, in Nashville TN.
“Chrome Shuffle” is a cadenced song where drums and bass take an important role in making the guitar lines even more fluid. “Be Happy” is a track written by the fusion/jazz master John McLaughlin, so you really can expect those intricated melodies, although perfectly played by Schon. The last track is a partial cover of The Beatles’ “Hey Jude”, which Schon revealed to play it alive plenty of times as an encore.
On Universe, Schon’s guitar really tells a story in each song. He ably uses R&B, rock and fusion approaches to give life and emotions to all the instrumental tracks. It’s been 50 years since Schon’s first album recording (Santana III, 1971), when he was just 17 years old. Throughout this period, more than 40 albums’ recordings later with several artists, Universe can be considered a milestone in Schon’s career.
The Review: 8.5/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– Third Stone From The Sun
– Silent Voyage
The Big Hit