4. Blue Tongue
6. Q Fever
7. Strawberry Footrot
9. Malignant Carbuncle
12. Fistulous Withers
Ron Thal's first solo album, The Adventures of Bumblefoot, was instrumental almost by accident. The year was 1995, shred guitar was not quite dead yet and Shrapnel Records still mattered to a relatively large population of guitar geeks. When approached by Shrapnel honcho Mike Varney to record an album for his shred guitar label, singer/songwriter/guitarist/producer Ron Thal shut up and played his guitar, and gave the world the now-really-hard-to-find Adventures of Bumblefoot.
The twelve instrumentals, named after animal diseases, are all at once goofy, melodic, shreddy, funky and metally. Occasional narratives, vocal samples and aaaaaaahs, eeeeeeeehs and oooooooooooohs appear here and there and add variety to the songs' relatively pedestrian melodies. Pieces like "Scrapie" and "Blue Tongue" are rather typical of the state of instrumental rock guitar in the mid-1990s (cf. Darren Housholder, Scott Mishoe, Stephen Ross, Marc Bonilla, etc.), with astonishing but subdued displays of virtuosity by Thal.
The appeal of this album, however, lies in the quirks, guitar noises and supremely original segments Thal never fails to sneak between innocuous melodic verses. The guitar licks are unmistakably his, and it is obvious that his prodigious musicianship extends far beyond the confines of instrumental shred guitar; one can hear shades of Zappa/Vai ("Strawberry Footrot"), funk, metal, modern classical music (the keyboard sections in "Strawberry Footrot", again), and nouveau flamenco ("Ick").
Knowing Thal's later independent work, I get the impression that Thal was largely humoring his label and recorded these instrumentals with his tongue securely attached to the inside of his cheek. Regardless, this album is a fine listen and contains enough quirky compositions and remarkable guitar work to satisfy fans of Thal/Bumblefoot and of guitar music in general.
Review by Rog The Frog Billerey-Mosier
Review date: 01/2002
6. I Can't Play The Blues
12. Every Time I Shake My Head (It's Like Christmas)
While often pigeonholed as a guitar virtuoso, no doubt through his association with Shrapnel Records (his first album was indeed an instrumental), Ron Thal is more of an extremely talented musician who happens to play very original, inventive, virtuosic guitar, in addition to singing, playing bass, arranging, and producing himself and others. Hermit is his first vocal release with international distribution.
The songs vary from "lyrics" rock ("Hermit") to jazz lounge crooning ("Every Time I Shake My Head") to rapcore ("Freak") to all sorts of things. The general tone of the album is rather dark, but a few songs bring levity and keep it from sounding dour. Thal's vocals are good, albeit not quite as appealing as what can be heard on his later releases. Some of the vocal harmonies ("Fatback") recall early Galactic Cowboys and (remotely) King's X, and there's a fair amount of rapping a la Rage Against the Machine and other rap/metal bands.
As expected, the guitar work is absolutely jaw-dropping for its virtuosity, integration within the songs, and melodicism. The production is a mite flat, a fact Thal deplores and ascribes to the recording policies at his former label (and it is not hard to believe him, considering how good his recent productions sound now that he is on his own).
Hermit is a far cry from the myriad failed attempts by guitarists to produce compelling vocal work on their own (see for instance Ty Tabor and Nuno Bettencourt, who should know better, or Paul Gilbert, who admittedly doesn't). This album has deserved my incessant attention since I remembered I had it on my shelves several weeks ago, and while it would be easy to dismiss after a couple of cursory listens, it also deserves yours.
Review by Rog The Frog Billerey-Mosier
Review date: 09/2000