This is a review that was published by Ultimate Guitar (www.UltimateGuitar.com) on July 4th 2016.
User Score: 8.7/10
Tackling a piece of baroque music is no easy task on any instrument, with melodies that weave in and out, and huge arpeggios that can be challenging for even experienced musicians. Sam Russell‘s take on Bach‘s first cello suite may not be the first version to be arranged for guitar, but probably the first version to be released that prominently uses electric guitar.
Now, from that, you’re probably thinking “rock version of a classical piece,” and the Ibanez RG Russell is holding on the cover might complete that illusion, but he has opted to treat the piece with a lot of respect and dignity. The only effect used on the record is a huge-sounding reverb that washes over the listener. There are no double-tracked guitar parts, as he mentions on his website, only a single-tracked electric guitar recorded with two microphones. I never would have imagined that a guitar nominally designed for hard rock and metal could be used as convincingly as a proper instrument for performing classical music, but Russell proves that this is quite possible on this recording.
As with the more faithful cello recordings of the piece (the one I’m most familiar with is Yo-Yo Ma‘s Grammy-winning 1985 recording of the cello suites), hearing the piece recorded on an electric guitar with as much reverb as this, it’s very easy to lose yourself in the performance as you just let it wash over you, with the very pretty arpeggiated melodies and beautiful trills giving a sense that not only does Sam care about the notes he’s playing, but the emotional articulation of the parts as well.
To complete the emotional story of this recording, the impetus for Sam recording this piece was learning it for his mother’s wedding. The emotional pressure of playing your mother down the aisle seems to be captured here quite well, though this performance never sounds tense or overwrought.
If I had anything to criticize on this record, it would be that the reverb is a bit much for my tastes, though to be fair, it’s a very nice-sounding reverb. It’s just at a bit of a very strong level that I probably would not have made so intense if I had been the one to record this. Other than that, this is a great recording of a classical piece that has stood the test of time for centuries. // 8
Lyrics: As an instrumental recording, Sam does not add any words to the piece, preferring to let the notes tell the story instead. While it would be easy for me to just say “there are no lyrics, skip to the next section,” I do believe that a conscious choice to make an instrumental record warrants a review of the lyrical intent as well. And considering the story of this album’s creation, learning it for his mother’s wedding, playing her down the aisle, and spending an entire year honing this piece until he could record an album of it, it speaks for itself and does not need words to convey the beautiful story that’s been told for centuries by this piece of music, and how Sam Russell used his own playing to re-tell the story in his own way. // 8
Overall Impression: Classical music on electric guitar can sometimes be quite a gamble (ask Dave Mustaine), but performing it with grace and dignity, and staying true to the intentions of the original composer, can sometimes yield excellent results. While this is not the first time Bach‘s first cello suite in G major has been transcribed for guitar, this still stands as a rather unique version, and the style of playing throughout shows Sam Russell‘s tasteful mastery of the instrument. If you’re into baroque music, you will definitely enjoy this rendition. And even if you’re not, you might find yourself surprised, as I was, by the movement of the music, as well as how well it translates to electric guitar.
Definitely an excellent record, and something I’d recommend checking out.