CD Review of Other True Self by Vernon Reid & Masque

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Other True Self
starstarstarstarno star Label: Favored Nations
Released: 2006
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He’s mostly known for his membership in Living Colour, but Vernon Reid started making a name for himself long before his best-known band broke through in 1988. From his stint with Ronald Shannon Jackson’s Decoding Society through dates with Bill Frisell, Arto Lindsay, John Zorn, and Public Enemy, Reid has long been known for not only his exceptional talent, but his social activism (he’s a co-founder of the Black Rock Coalition).

For Other True Self, his third solo album, Reid employs essentially the same core group he’s been working with since his debut; the difference this time around is that bassist Leon Gruenbaum, bassist Hank Schroy, and drummer Don McKenzie have more of a hand in the sound and shape of the music—Gruenbaum and Schroy each have a solo writing credit, and McKenzie handles the arrangement for “Oxossi.”

It’s still a Vernon Reid record, of course, meaning there’s no shortage of six-string pyrotechnics, not to mention a few surprises. The band turns in a (literally) warped cover of Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence” and has its way with Radiohead’s “National Anthem,” and it’s a testament to Self that neither song distracts from the rest of the album.

Guitar records are tricky – particularly those of the electric variety. Asking any one instrument to shoulder the burden of an entire album is problematic, but the electric guitar walks a particularly fine line: Not enough flash, and nobody’s listening, but too many heroic solos, and you’re into Yngwie territory. Reid solves this problem by relying on his comfort within multiple genres – Self runs the gamut from rock to reggae to world beat – and where previous outings were a little too self-consciously eclectic, these 13 tracks strike a perfect balance.

There’s still no shortage of pyrotechnics – in fact, at times Reid seems to be beaming in his performances from some distant universe – but at the end of the day, the song’s the thing, and that hasn’t been forgotten here. It won’t sell as many copies or get as much press as anything he’s done at his day job, but Other True Self is an example of an artist in near-total command of his craft.

~Jeff Giles