When A Guitar Sings

If you’re a guitarist and you played guitar solos on Grammy winning albums, raise your hand please ?

Adam Levy did, twice : with Tracy Chapman and with Norah Jones.

How many times were-we ‘forced’ to listen to ‘Come Away With Me’ on radio, in restaurant, everywhere really. It was almost too much at some point, but frankly it could have been worse: it’s a gorgeous song, and fact is that the musicianship on the album is flawless.

Notice that no radio-edit tempted to cut off the guitar solo on the title song. This solo is an integral part of the song, well done Adam ! Here’s a guitarist who PLAY THE SONG (cf my previous post)

In a time where people are still suspicious of guitar solos after the traumatic experience of the 80’s and 90’s shredders, being ask to solo on a potential single must come with some pressure: DO NOT KILL THE SONG DUDE !!!

Adam Levy’s playing on ‘Come away with me’ is quite magical : it sounds to me as if Norah Jones was singing through the guitar. The phrasing is a perfect continuation of what was sung before. Apart from the couple of classic r’n’b double-stops at the end that can be considered as ‘licks’, notice how Levy builds his solo purely melodically, without relying on pre-worked phrases, the Melody guides his fingers.

Space in the vocal melody : space in the guitar solo. Norah Jones’ vocal style is simple, straight forward, there’s not much vibrato, she doesn’t jump all over the room, neither does Adam Levy. His attack is clear and round, few bends and slide, the guitar vernacular is never distracting: too many bends, vibrato, ghost-notes and rakes can make the melody disappear under ‘effects’ (if you’re not Jeff Beck)… None of that here, just pure unaltered melody.

Only Adam Levy could tell us how much he adapted his style while playing with Norah Jones to fit her music, or if he naturally played like that and it was a natural fit for Norah’s music.

I’ve played another solo where Adam Levy showcase the same quality, it’s from Amos Lee ‘Arms of a woman’. Amos Lee’s phrasing is a bit more bluesy than Norah Jones ? The solo is more bluesy. Still it’s the same spirit -the fact that it’s Norah Jones’ band playing helps-. Again, no show off, no licks ready made. Tasteful.

Those are great examples of “instrumental interventions” in songs (don’t call them “solos”) that exemplified the point I was making in trying to blend your style to the style of the singer. It’s not the only valid approach of corse. But it’s a very valid yet under-rated one.

If you want to play these solos yourself either:

-transcribe it yourself (this video is here to help)

-or you can purchase the transcription here and help me continue this adventure on the blogosphere

Make sure to check Adam’s music and educational videos (here’s my favorite).

Next week I continue my exploration of ‘instrumental interventions’ in songs with another great jazzman who’s work with singers is flawless : Larry Goldings.

Thanx for reading, take care

Note: I planned and wrote this post -but not published it- before getting in contact with Adam. Since he’ll probably read this, I feel a bit self-conscious because I kinda sound like a ‘groupie’, but what the heck…

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