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Steve Lawson


Steve Lawson's Behind Every Word is a solo bass guitar record. Now before everyone who is not a bass player clears the room, hear me out. I dislike solo bass almost as much as I dislike bass solos. I think of bass and, yes, bass guitar as a supportive instrument. Still, I pride myself on not being dogmatic so I listened to Behind Every Word with an open mind. Fortunately I also listened with an open heart, because unlike many bass guitarists, who learned all the wrong lessons from Jaco Pastorious, Lawson learned the right ones and speaks directly to the emotions. This is some of the most beautiful, deeply felt music that I have heard performed on any instrument, let alone bass guitar. Like Jaco, Lawson starts with a gorgeous tone; unlike the late virtuoso, there are few technical gymnastics at work here--though he does demonstrate ample popping and slapping ability on "Me, Myself And I."

That title goes to the core of what the British bassist does: using a looping device, he lays down layers of overdubs in real time, adding guitar-like lines on the effect-modified upper strings of his six-stringed instrument, as well as using other effects to create lush chordal pads. Other than guest appearances by pedal-steel guitarist BJ Cole and vocalist Julie McKee on one track each, BEW is all Lawson, all bass, all the time.

It is hard enough to make an instrumental record that holds the audience's attention with a raft of different instruments and players, but Lawson manages to do it with one instrument (albeit modified to create many sounds) and one player. A gift for melody helps; hummable, often beautiful, but never cloying or dumb. "Blue Planet" kicks it off with a deeply grooving bass line, overdubbed with chordal work, topped by melodic playing on the upper strings. It is Lawson's rich, sustaining tone on these upper strings that sets him apart from other bass soloists. Even on the rare occasions when his tone falters, the feeling and commitment with which his lines are played bails him out. The title tune adds a backwards effect, and elsewhere other electronic noises perk up the ears, but no sounds are gratuitous; each increases the impact of the tonal tale being told.

I could go on about the Frisell-like folk simplicity of the melodies; about how relatively few bassists number among his influences (a good sign); and about the wide range of music under Lawson's umbrella. Suffice it to say that Steve Lawson has made a record with just a bass guitar that is moving, musical--hell, listenable! A feat I would have heretofore thought impossible. • Michael Ross

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