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Master at work

A solo flight from Pink Floyd’s David Glimour
By TED DROZDOWSKI  |  April 25, 2006

TONE POET: Like Clapton and Page, Gilmour continues to stretch blues influences in all directions.The best guitarists can always be recognized by their sound, even if they spend their careers swapping amps, effects, or instruments. There’s a way in which their fingers, fretboards, and other factors mesh that makes them identifiable. That’s why we can distinguish the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Sonny Sharrock, Joe Pass, Tom Verlaine, Wes Montgomery, Eric Clapton, and Jeff Beck with just a few notes. Also David Gilmour, who’s often left off lists of the greatest six-string rockers but deserves a place in the pantheon.

Gilmour, who recently released his third solo album, On an Island (Sony), has been the voice of Pink Floyd since the departure of Roger Waters in 1985. He joined the band in 1968, when his friend Syd Barrett, Floyd’s original leader, was unraveling. It was Gilmour’s job to step in when Barrett chose to sit on the floor of the stage or wander off rather than play. After Barrett meandered altogether from sanity, the gig became Gilmour’s alone, and along with Waters he was an architect of the group’s triple apex of creativity: the 1970s albums DarkSide of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, and Animals (all on Columbia). Some may prefer Floyd’s epic The Wall (Columbia), where Gilmour’s emotional solos on “Comfortably Numb” and “Run like Hell” provide powerful crescendi, but in hindsight the Waters-led conception of that recording doesn’t sustain the double album.

Which isn’t to say the Gilmour-driven Pink Floyd albums A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987) and The DivisionBell (1994; both on Sony) are better. After the break-up, all the band’s members lost some mojo. But Gilmour’s guitar skills, as Pink Floyd’s 2005 Live 8 concert reunion proved, remain undiminished.

Like Pink Floyd’s ’70s trifecta, Onan Island’s 10 tracks explore themes of need, dependence, satisfaction, and romance. And with Floyd keyboardist Richard Wright contributing organ and Gilmour sculpting subtle layers of guitar, an atmospheric tune like “Red Sky at Night” could fold comfortably into Wish You Were Here. Other guests include David Crosby and Graham Nash singing harmonies, Robert Wyatt on cornet, pianist Jools Holland, Willie Nelson, and Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera, who produced with Gilmour and Chris Thomas.

The disc flows gently, often capturing the idyllic sensibility its title implies. Nonetheless, the island Gilmour is referring to is the self, the lone individual experiencing the world. Thanks to the gentle beauty of a number like the instrumental “Then I Close My Eyes,” with its acoustic, steel, and conventional electric guitars chiming in inviting harmony, that perspective is never forced.

Gilmour sings in a warm, unhurried tenor, but his true voice is still his distinctive playing. Like Clapton and Page, he continues to stretch blues influences in all directions, making bent notes, always sweetened by his delicate vibrato, complain with rock attitude or soar like pelicans in a morning sun. Through dynamics, subtle shifts in tone, and careful selection of guitars, he’s able to color in delicate shades, using the thick, stinging midrange caw of his customary Stratocasters as the base for his palette. Sure, On an Island is only an approximation of Floyd’s best creations, but it’s still the sound of a master at work.
  Topics: Music Features , David Gilmour , Pink Floyd , Roger Waters ,  More more >
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Master at work
Ted, Thank you! I have waited almost 30 years for critics to finally appreciate Daci Gilmour. It seems like only Clapton,Beck and a few others could be loved by critics but listening to Gilmour with his tone quality, his feel for melody and his impecable timing of notes makes him part of that elite class. Thanks so much! Dave in Fort Wayne, IN
By dave hollingsed on 04/25/2006 at 11:39:21
Master at work
Nice article! I'm not sure what the point of it all is, as it's not really a review of 'On An Island', per se. I think we all pretty much know who David Gilmour is by now, as he's been around for nearly 40 years in the rock world (40 years!!). Indeed, it was nice to read an appreciation of David Gilmour, though, who is as you say, without question, one of the most underrated rock guitarists in the genre's history. Great description of his singing voice ("warm, unhurried tenor"). I disagree with your assessment of 'The Wall', which is a classic that transcends any review of it. While it's true that Waters hi-jacked the whole operation, it's arguable that it's always been HIS songwriting (and lyrics) that gave Floyd their depth, and that album remains Pink Floyd's last true collaboration (even if studio musicians were brought in to redo much of Mason and Wright's parts!) Dave was at the top of his game next to Roger on that album. One thing David Gilmour's writing has little of is edge, though his guitar solos have plenty of it and make him still worth listening to today. Not to turn this into a Waters versus Gilmour comment, which I probably already have, but David's lyrics lack Water's informed and inflamed view of the world. In a word - attitude. Waters aims to not let anyone get away with anything, his eye is always warily cast on the lechers and insidious, murderous behaviour of the world's governments and their dictators and leaders. His acidic, and acerbic lyrics are what 'Pink Floyd' desperately missed when Gilmour took it over in 1985. Gilmour tried his best, but couldn't mine much more depth than cliched flying metaphors and run-of-the-mill isolation content. Waters raging and ranting, but overall empathy for the plight of the human race is sorely missed. Likewise, Gilmour's heart-on-his sleeve humanity balanced out the madness to make one of the best bands in the world. Gilmour is Good Cop to Water's Bad Cop, and that dynamic is what made Pink Floyd so amazing and multi-dimensional. I think we all feel each of their own work individually pales next to all four working on all cylinders, something that increasingly looks like may not happen in their lifetimes. Funny, their sniping behavior and attitudes, defiance and egos would ironically make the perfect content for a classic Pink Floyd album! Roger would have to write the lyrics, tho. As I listen to Gilmour's 'On An Island', I am partially taken to that place where he took me 20 years before, but I still find myself waiting for the meat on the bones after the third or fourth tune. Thanks for letting me rant.
By Spradlinnn' on 04/30/2006 at 1:18:48
Master at work
dave hollingsed: Sessions musicians WERE NOT brought in on sessions for The Wall to "redo much of Mason and Wright's parts." You have absolutely no idea what you are writing about. There were plenty of session musicians on The Wall, but they were not there to "redo" Mason and Wright. The session musicians were hired to perform ADDITIONAL parts. Did you know that Lee Ritenour played some additonal guitar on The Wall? There is only ONE SONG on The Wall that Nick Mason does not play the drums on, and that is the song "Mother", which session drummer Jeff Porcaro played on. Please get you facts straight.
By igloomaster on 05/01/2006 at 1:20:31
Master at work
sorry, the above was meant for "Spradlinnn'"
By igloomaster on 05/01/2006 at 1:21:19
Master at work
Ted - great article on David Gilmour... thanks for writing. Just a couple of quick corrections... Dark Side Of The Moon was not released on Columbia... it was their last album for Capitol at the time. They jumped ship to Columbia in time for Wish You Were Here. Also, "Willie Nelson" is not on the new Gilmour record. It's "Willie Wilson", an old friend of Gilmour who played on the latter's first solo album in 1978. Thanks, Abhi
By Abhi on 05/02/2006 at 8:05:46

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