|Musical Style: Instrumental Hard Rock||Produced By: Kevin Windross|
|Record Label: Independent||Country Of Origin: Australia|
|Year Released: 2009||Artist Website: Kevin Windross|
|Tracks: 7||Rating: 80%|
|Running Time: 33:24|
While the eighties are best known as an era in which hair metal ruled supreme – and the likes of Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, Poison and Stryper dominated the airwaves – it also produced its share of quality instrumental hard rock. Guitar virtuosos such as Joe Satriani (Surfing With The Alien), Joey Tafolla (Out Of The Sun) and David Chastain (Within The Heat) proved there was more to the decade than big hair, spandex, syrupy ballads and non-stop hooks. Top of the line instrumental guitar albums continued to released throughout the decades that followed, as is aptly demonstrated by Steve Vai (Passion And Warfare from 1990), James Byrd (Son Of Man from 1995), Fourth Estate (Finesse And Fury and See What I See from 1992 and 1995 respectively) and Rob Johnson (Guitararchitecture from 2001).
Australian native Kevin Windross is the latest artist to maintain the instrumental guitar rock trend. Getting his start in the late nineties with his first band Kilter and its debut Hephzibah, Windross formed Early Warning System in 2004 prior to putting out the full length effort Overworld on Soundmass Records two years later. After Early Warning System went its separate ways, Windross regrouped by recording his first solo album, the instrumental hard rock of the early 2009 release Standing Outside Circles.
Windross, who believes instrumental music can be used of God to break down barriers in the world, lists his influences as Steve Lukather (Toto), John Norum (Europe) John Sykes (Thin Lizzy & Whitesnake) Oz Fox (Stryper) Rex Carroll (Whitecross), Joe Satriani, Vinnie Moore and John Pretucci (Dream Theater). Yes, very good company indeed but it is without a doubt that these guitarists and others have made a direct impression on Windross’ playing throughout the project.
The first name that comes to mind when listening to Standing Outside Circles, of course, is Joe Satriani- in terms of not only soloing but songwriting direction as well. That said, when taking a closer look at things, the dexterous shredding of Rob Johnson (Magnitude 9) and Rex Carroll must be mentioned but mixed with the melodic touches characteristic to James Byrd and Pastor Brad. You will even find some bluesy flavorings not unlike Jeff Scheetz.
If you are interested in a fiery side to the artists soloing abilities then look no further than up-tempo tracks “Desert Princess” and “Standing Outside Circles”. “Into The Sun” maintains the upbeat heading but with more of a fusion based approach while a bluesy direction is taken on the gritty “After The Storm” and laid back “The Road To Bourke”. “Fisherman’s Bend” (pronounced bass line on this one) and “Little Caity” (Windross really cuts loose here) bring a mid-paced but melodic based sound.
Now, I own my share of instrumental guitar albums and in many (though not all) cases they serve as vehicles to showcase the playing of the musicians involved- almost to the extent that the songwriting plays a secondary role to the musicianship. However, such is NOT the case on Standing Outside Circles in that the artist strikes the near perfect balance of quality musicianship AND songwriting. If anything, Windross must be credited with the amount of melody he imbues the project, proving masterful in adorning things with his catchy riffs while showcasing his adept playing at the same time (this is where the previously referenced Satriani influence comes into play).
Production values deliver the goods, spotlighting a pronounced low end while placing the guitars at the forefront of the mix- where they belong on an instrumental hard rock release.
The only thing constructive to offer is that the album is a bit short at 7 songs and thirty-three minutes (which places it just above EP range). On the other hand, give the artist credit for going with his best material on not giving us any filler. Packaging is somewhat barebones as well. Also, it would have been nice if a few guest musicians had been brought in to help round out the project (in the same manner that Pastor Brad does on his instrumental releases).
At this point I thought it would be best to move on to the track by track (with artist commentary in italics at the end of each song).
Getting things underway is “Desert Princess”, an upbeat rocker standing out with its fiery riffs and changes in tempo. The song represents the perfect vehicle for Windross to showcase his varied playing. A minute into “Desert Princess”, for example, he cuts loose with some ripping lead work only to transition to a more bluesy style just past the halfway mark. After slowing to a near standstill (with some pounding drums in the background), the song picks up the pace over its final minute as Windross again solos in radiant fashion.
One of my favorites. This track started out as a song that was written in a jam session in Adelaide Australia, when I was touring with my old band Early Warning System. It was too good to let go, so I turned it into an instrumental piece.
“Fisherman’s Bend” slows the pace down a bit but proves no less exemplarily. Reflecting the more tempered touch, the song stands out with its abundant melodies and catchy riffs- of the kind guaranteed to draw you in on first listen. A thumping bass line all the while fortifies the backdrop.
I grew up on the farm & in a small country town called Canowindra. Most of my memories as a teenager are of spending hours on lazy summer days with my friends, jumping out of a huge river gum, into a water hole in the Belabula River called, “Fisherman’s Bend”. It is a happy piece but with a twist of darkness, as it was sometimes dangerous in the river.
Momentum picks back up with “Into The Sun”. This one proves every bit as melodic as its predecessor but with more of a metal edge. Beginning to a stretch of open air guitar, the song races its distance to a decisive guitar riff backed by some soloing with a fusion-like feel to it. Keyboards help lighten the atmosphere.
My continued fascination of all things out there in space. One of the only subjects I enjoyed in school. Being a right brain dominant person is fantastic, because your imagination can take you places otherwise impossible and into the sun was a place I went when the other crap (the left brain systems that dominate the world) going on around me put me to sleep.
The blues rock flavorings of “After The Storm” remind me a bit of Jeff Scheetz (particularly his work on Pawn Shop). The song presents with some interesting changes in tempo, ranging from slower and more grit-driven passages (this is where the blues influence comes in) and others reflecting the more decisive touch (which finds the rhythm guitar moving to the front of the mix).
I wrote this track after enduring a crazy time of depression, which I still battle with on occasion (that darn black dog). Winston Churchill self medicated with brandy often to counter the effects of the black dog, but unfortunately I get heart burn if I drink brandy, so I just get good sleep and take long walks and that often helps push back the clouds.
The album peaks with its stunning title track. Just under seven minutes of guitar shred heaven, the song again finds Windross cutting loose but highlighting an all out metal-driven guitar riff at the same time. As it moves forward, “Standing Outside Circles” makes several changes to a reduced tempo only to again regain the initiative. This works best at just past the four minute mark as Windross steps forward with a lead guitar run that, for a lack of better words, is nothing less than jaw dropping.
My life has been spent seemingly always standing outside circles. I started life as an orphan and was a very sick child with major heart problems. Despite all the odds, God has had His plans for me and I am still here and I have a message to those that want to hear it. It is a message of hope, destiny and design and of good things coming out of the most desperate of circumstances.
“The Road To Bourke” represents the albums most laid back and tranquil piece. The song really mellows things out, opening to a keyboard solo before flowing ahead to bluesy guitar work as an acoustic guitar and more keyboards add to the relaxed setting.
It was 1996 and into an old 1977 Ford XC wagon, with a 351 cubic inch motor I packed my young family and headed off with a team of throw caution to the wind individuals, to a little town in the middle of some of the hottest driest country in Australia, to learn from and help where we could, an indigenous community in a town called Bourke. The road to Bourke is long, straight and so typically Australian, that I would encourage anyone one day, to travel it. This time was life changing, because when you go and hang out with people of Faith and witness events unexplainable by man and science, it changes you forever.
“Little Caity” begins to a length stretch of gently played guitar only to gain momentum at just past the minute and a half mark to some fast paced soloing. The song proceeds to drift back and forth between calmer moments – carried by guitar work on the more relaxed side of things – and others in which shredding leads dominate the fixed landscape.
This is a track named after my daughter. The struggle in the music reflects the struggle sometimes experienced by myself and Caity. We are both very similar in character and both way to head strong.
The best way to summarize would be to state that if you enjoy instrumental hard rock – in all its capacities – then Standing Outside Circles comes with a strong recommendation. Instrumentally driven but also featuring the needed amount of melody, the album proves a consistent listen its full thirty-three minutes. Adept guitar playing along with solid production values only add to its appeal.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Desert Princess” (4:24), “Fisherman’s Bend” (4:00), “Into The Sun” (4:14), “After The Storm” (4:13), “Standing Outside Circles” (6:43), “The Road To Bourke” (4:41), “Little Caity” (5:09)
Kevin Windross – Guitars, Bass, Keyboards & Strings
Henning Pauly – Bass & Drum Programming
Simon Waugh – Drums
Also Reviewed: Early Warning System - Overworld