Music : Arlen Roth goes big time
Arlen Roth's work as a session guitarist has paired him with the likes of Paul Simon, Livingston Taylor, Pete Seeger, John Prine, and Junior Wells, among many others. Now the guitar player extraordinaire has a new offering for both classic rock fans and guitar music aficionados. His latest solo release, "Toolin' around Woodstock," was released this past February by Mr. Roth's own label, Aquinnah Records, and boasts contributions from some rock and roll heavyweights. His all-star backup band features Levon Helm, legendary vocalist and drummer for The Band, as well as Bill Kirchen, guitarist Commander Cody, and acclaimed slide guitar player Sonny Landreth, who duels with Eric Clapton and Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits on his recently released album, "From the Reach" (Landfall Records).
Mr. Roth's album also includes a little help from the family. Mr. Roth's daughter, Lexie Roth, and Mr. Helm's daughter, Amy Helm, lend close harmony vocals to the record in both backup and lead vocal capacities, Ms. Roth singing "Nightlife" and the pair of them doing an elegant duet on "Just one Look."
This is a collection of songs, both cover and original, that harkens back to Mr. Roth's and Mr. Helm's musical past. Their shared roots in 50s rock, blues, and country music comes across quite clearly in their authentic performances. Mr. Helm's renditions of Chuck Berry's "Sweet little Sixteen" and the classic country heartbreaker "Crying Time" is outstanding, especially considering his recent battle with throat cancer. Mr. Roth digs deep with a passionate take on the instrumental, "Sleep Walker," and the rollicking blues number, "Matchbox." With "Matchbox," Mr. Roth holds it down with a modest lead vocal only to send the song into orbit with a searing guitar solo that reminds anyone who needed reminding of his tremendous talent.
Mr. Roth has always had success as a guitar for hire doing session and live work. He has worked on films, most memorably "Crossroads," in which he coached Ralph Macchio's guitar playing for his role as a talented classical guitarist turned bluesman. Mr. Roth's highly praised instructional "Hot Licks" video lesson series can be found in most music stores.
Photo courtesy Lexie Roth
Despite his success in every other aspect of the music business, Mr. Roth's solo albums have never quite broken through to mainstream success. "Toolin' around Woodstock" with Levon Helm might just be the long-awaited end to a past of under-whelming album sales. It has started to get some notice, and is doing well on the Americana charts. This well-deserved attention of the historically under-appreciated guitar virtuoso must be attributed to his guest Levon Helm's rock legend status and his recent Grammy for the 2007 release, "Dirt Farmer." This celebrity collaboration has no doubt won Arlen Roth some new listeners, but in no way overshadows his talent. His skills stand firm throughout the recording making it clear this is a fantastic coupling of peers, but it is also an Arlen Roth album.
"Toolin' around Woodstock," featuring Levon Helm is available at Aboveground Records.
Colin Ruel is a singer/songwriter who performs on the Island.