February 27, 2008

Oooh Baby, Slo-Mo That Slide!

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Any musical instrument is a good musical instrument, but there’s something about an electric slide guitar that makes for the most soulful music. It probably has as much to do with the player as it does with the instrument’s sound, but when I hear that reverb-heavy twang come alive with a smoky Old West voice to boot, I’m hooked. And last Friday at the beloved Chapter House on Stewart Ave., Philadelphia slide guitarist Slo-Mo had me in his musical pocket the whole show.
The only difference between a slide guitar and an acoustic is the way it’s played: slide guitarists hold down frets to create pitches with a
piece of glass, metal or plastic, not their fingers. The MacGyver musician uses an empty beer bottle, which works just great. It’s hard to describe exactly what the effect is, but essentially every aspect of a guitar’s tone is accentuated — chords bristle with piles of overtones, high tones pierce the ear harder, individual notes are blurred with vibrations from the notes that came before and after. In particular, blues and country artists love slide guitar because they can get a lot of sound from just a single acoustic guitar. It’s also one of the most unique sounds you can make with an instrument; while he’s acclaimed in his own right, a musician like Neil Young, for example, requires a slide guitarist to complete his sound. Slo-Mo, or Mike Brenner at his day job, brings a quartet of musical qualities to the table: he plays his instrument really well, his singing isn’t half bad, he writes great song and he surrounds himself with solid musicians. Brenner is a talented solo artist as well as studio support musician. But the group he leads, Slo-Mo, is really where he becomes a standout.
At the Chapter House show, however, Slo-Mo stayed out of the spotlight and happily shared the stage with six other members of his band. The
guitarist’s ensemble is competent — keeping good rhythm and maintaining a solid song structure — but not fantastic. Lacking virtuosity is hardly a liability for the group, however, as everyone on stage stayed on point with transitions, endings, and break-downs, difficult for such a large band. Slo-Mo adds to the richness of his music by including two female back-up vocalists that supported simple choruses with lovely harmony. Recently, Slo-Mo even added the MC Mic Wrecka to the ensemble. While my first impressions of the man were skeptical — I was introduced to him with a verse all about the hip hop
topic of smoking weed — his performance throughout the rest of the set was very impressive. Mic Wrecka compliments both Slo-Mo’s lyrical work
with creative extra verse as well as his overall sound.
The key to Slo-Mo’s music is that it’s all just locked in real tight. When you’ve got a bass riff, slide guitar riff, lead vocal line and back-up harmony all doing the same thing, the multiplicity of one melody played by several musicians taps into something integrally important about good music. And if the live show is as tight as the studio production, there’s hardly any way of going wrong. Slo-Mo’s got both.