Leo Abrahams - The Grape and the Grain
There’s no denying that Leo Abrahams is a talented guitarist, one who can always be relied upon to conjure up the perfect phrasing to complement the work of other artists; check his stunning recent collaboration with David Byrne and Brian Eno for cast iron evidence of that. Maybe he’s grown tired of being the eternal bridesmaid to others because he has now elected to release another album in his own right. I’ve been listening to The Grape and The Grain for over a week now, trying to work out just what to say about it.
Abrahams’ virtuosity is beyond reproach and the arrangement and production are such that it is a pleasure to hear, but there’s something missing. Uncertain how to proceed with this review I thought I’d manufacture some inspiration and try listening to it in the car just to see if it made any more sense in that environment. Having picked up my Mum on route for a Mother’s Day outing I turned on the stereo and she solved the problem immediately without turning a hair. This is nice dear she said, it would be the perfect music to play in the background in a restaurant wouldn’t it. Damned by faint praise but she’s right of course, I handed her the loaded pistol and she pulled the trigger. This album is best described as a collection of repetitive ideas searching for a purpose, Masquerade for example sounds like it might be a recently unearthed extra guitar track for Echo and the Bunnymen’s Killing Moon. One can imagine each and every track working wonderfully well when infused with the song writing skills of another artist but laid bare here they offer little to distinguish themselves from shopping centre musak.
Does Abrahams want to be a virtuoso guitarist like John Scofield or an ambient minimalist like Philip Glass? We don’t know, but what we can say is that the halfway house combination of the two we find here leaves us with something more akin to the aural equivalent of Philip Scofield. A tad harsh maybe, but the fact of the matter is that this ambient approach to the guitar has been done and been done more effectively by such luminaries as Daniel Lanois, Andy Summers and, most effectively, by Michael Brook. If you are a restaurateur or, indeed, you are searching for some inoffensive background music for use in any other situation in which you don’t want to be challenged then this album should be top of your list; for the rest of us, however, it is a bit of a curate’s egg. My advice is to keep an eye out for his mooted collaboration with Brett Anderson, because there’s an artist in search of a decent guitarist if ever I saw one.