Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Soundtrack of My Life

Tesla - Five Man Acoustical Jam

There's something wonderful about the sound of an electric guitar roaring through an amp with the gain cranked.  That sound feels like home, and can still make my hair stand on end, even after years of cranking the metal.  But every once in a while, I get burned out on the whole wall-of-blazing-electric-axes sound.  It's true.  Usually I love nothing better than to plug in my Jackson, crank up my amp, and make noise.  But sometimes, I honestly just wanna strap on my acoustic and chill out.  There's a good reason for that, and that reason is Tesla's Five Man Acoustical Jam.

When I first heard Five Man, I was in the grips of full-blown metal fever.  I couldn't stand acoustic guitar.  I didn't even really like power ballads that featured acoustic guitar.  (Though now I can sing every word of "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" and "More Than Words".)  Then, along came this platter.  Tesla was a band I really liked, although they were never a favorite.  Still, they kicked ass on tunes like "Modern Day Cowboy" and "Heaven's Trail (No Way Out").  I knew somehow that they wouldn't deliver an unplugged record full of weepy ballads.  And I was right.  Five Man Acoustic Jam rocks just as hard as any fully electrified Tesla release.

What performing unplugged did for Tesla was give them a chance to show that they could actually play.  Most of the tracks on Five Man feature stripped-down, spare arrangements.  Some of the songs are even performed withing drummer Troy Luccketta bashing away at the kit.  The band also adds a few flourishes, like harmonica and piano, to the mix.  The result is the songs take on different emotional tones.  "Comin' Atcha Live" becomes and laid-back, swinging blues jam, while "Before My Eyes" morphs into a mystifying, haunting affair.  "Heaven's Trail (No Way Out)" rocks solid, even without the drums and electrified riffs.  "Modern Day Cowboy" manages to sound like a 60's protest song.  

Along with their own material, Tesla throws in a number of cover songs.  They stay pretty faithful to the originals, but it's impossible not to sing along with "Signs", "Lodi", and "We Can Work It Out".  The record is a live recording, so it also captures so funny moments, like singer Jeff Keith's reaction to being given a hat, and guitarist Tommy Skeoch's "Tommy's Down Home".  The records ends with the cheery, swinging "Down for Boogie", which is a blast to sing along with, and the perfect closing number.

For me, Tesla's Five Man Acoustical Jam was a monumental album, mainly because it proved to me that strumming an acoustic guitar can be just as cool as wailing away on an electric.  It also hammered home the point that whether you play plugged in or unplugged, you'd better have good songs.  Tesla had some pretty great songs.  They even wrote some of them themselves!  I dusted off my copy of Five Man last week, and it was every bit as enjoyable as it was when I first heard it.  And that's the most important thing.  Hell, it kinda takes me back a few years (to when I still had some hope).  So, really, it's kinda like time travel.  And that's priceless.

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