On Emotion & Commotion (Rhino), his first album in seven years, legendary guitarist Jeff Beck weaves his way through new and familiar compositions ranging from bold to bluesy to melancholy. Embellished with solid orchestral arrangements, the songs soar with a passionate range of emotion and intensity that pervade the album like a testament from a rock ‘n’ roll evangelist.
The opening track, “Corpus Christi Carol,” has a mournful resonance that is steeped in history, from the origins of the carol in 1504 to the recent adaptations by Benjamin Britten and Jeff Buckley. “Hammerhead” (co-written by keyboardist Jason Rebello) is vintage Beck, his trademark power chords segueing into a dynamic orchestral accompaniment.
“Never Alone” is given an intricate bluesy treatment by Beck that is supported by Rebello’s keyboards and Peter Murray‘s orchestral backgrounds.
The classic “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (written by Harold Arlen and best known as a Judy Garland number) is given a seemingly effortless rendition by the masterful Beck.
Screamin’ Jay Hawkins‘ “I Put a Spell on You” is a natural for Beck, who is content to give the spotlight to Joss Stone‘s soulful vibe while still managing to make his ubiquitous presence felt.
“Serene” (also co-written with Rebello) is described by Beck in the liner notes as a song that begins with a reverb effect called a time bender, a digital delay system that perfectly suits Beck’s style as he cuts a voluminous path through Rebello’s keyboard treatments. The track also is lifted by expert session drummer Vinnie Colaiuta‘s rock-steady beat.
James Shelton‘s “Lilac Wine” is driven by Imelda May‘s passionate vocal. Beck never seems to hit a wrong note on this album, and it is never more evident than in this song as the spaces in between the notes resonate with longing.
The orchestral arrangements imbue Beck’s version of “Nessun Dorma,” the aria from Giacomo Puccini‘s opera “Turandot,” most identified with the late Luciano Pavarotti. You can almost imagine Pavarotti smiling in the wings as Beck gives a tearful homage to the great tenor.
Stone revs things up on “There’s No Other Me” (co-written by Rebello and Stone), as Beck’s tremolo bathes the listener in a cosmic tsunami.
The closing tune –“Elegy for Dunkirk,” written by Oscar-winning composer Dario Marianelli (“Atonement”) — is a quiet lament painted with a thin coating of loss and grief and aided by a heartfelt vocal by Olivia Safe. It perfectly bookends the opening track and seals the album in a mood of somber melancholia.
With Emotion & Commotion, Beck and the musicians he has assembled give credence to the title of one of his most mature and eclectic works. The end result is nothing less than a sublime masterpiece.
— By Donald Gavron