It’s often said that the very best session musicians are the ones that you have never heard of, the idea is that like stuntmen, they are the ones lurking in the background propping up the stars who hire them, whilst trying not to steal their limelight.
It perhaps provides some reason why an album by a guitarist called Zed Mitchell (born Zlatko Manojlović in Belgrade) should end an album with a track called 'Fake'. A cursory googling of the artist reveals that he has had some career:
Session work for Tina Turner, Phil Collins, Natalie Cole and a credit on the ‘Indiana Jones’ film soundtrack album. And If this what not enough he’s toured with BB King, Santana, Joe Cocker and worked with Deep Purple.
It is this wealth of experience that allow him to skip through several genres without the listener even realising it, and it is interesting to note that he has a five-octave vocal range which allows him to sound like Mark Knopfler in the intro (as much commented on in other forums) in the bookended tracks of the opener, ‘By Sundown You’ll Be Gone’, long before transforming into Roger Waters in the finale, “Fake”: duality seems to run through this piece.
When asked about the title in a recent feature podcast, the host Pete Feenstra asked Mitchell why the album was titled 'Route 69' and not '66'; as it turns out it refers to Zed’s age and not a smutty joke. This is perhaps why we find the guitarist in reflective mood. The album seems to take the form of a drive down life’s highway.
‘By Sundown You’ll Be Gone’ and ‘The Girl That Broke Your Heart’ bring out his plaintive side. Despite similar themes, their composition couldn’t be more different: “Sundown” has snatches of slide guitar and is lively in tempo whereas ‘The Girl That Broke Your Heart’ is more mournful. The common link connecting them is that the very same podcast host, Feenstra, provided the lyrics for both tracks.
The album’s highlight is 'Midnite Melody', an atmospheric groove created by Jazz brushes, half-whispered vocals and gentle playing on what sounds like an electronic Jazz guitar. Impressive arrangement of this piece allows the perfect timing of a soaring saxophone to break up the opening but not to overshadow the later guitar solo whose sound morphs into something that would not look out of place on a Vangelis film soundtrack.
This is an album to immerse yourself in the expressive, flighty slide-guitar playing of a master. It seems to be Mitchell is a great synthesist who has fully absorbed his past collaborations into something that sounds familiar and is all-the-more comforting for it. A musical journey that rewards repeat listening as Zed states on track 6 'I Like To Drive (I’m Ready To Live)'.
Ivan De Mello