Born On Earth
One night in 1983 I wandered into a club in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles to see a band called the Living Daylights. I thought it was going to be just another night of clubbing until the band hit the stage. The guitar player, with green-streaked hair, a green shirt and a green guitar was obviously the leader of the band, which was almost a SoCal version of U2, only with a mind-blowing guitarist. You could almost hear jaws hitting the floor as he played. He produced amazing tone and sounds through some pedals, a small rack and a Fender Champ, with innate musicality and an arsenal of licks that put him in a class, to these ears, somewhere between Steve Vai and Mozart. Really.
The guitar player’s name was Rusty Anderson, and while he never gained the recognition I feel he deserved, he’s had one heckuva career. He’s played for everyone from Fishbone to Willie Nelson to Ricky Martin, and made four major label albums as a member of alternative band Ednaswap. For nearly a decade he’s been the guitarist of choice for a guy named Sir Paul McCartney. And in his spare time, he even gets to record his own CDs.
Anderson’s new album, Born on Earth, may be a bit of a disappointment to those of us who want to hear him take guitar playing to dizzying new heights. But Anderson has wisely learned the lesson of putting the song first, a lesson that would be impossible not to learn in the employ of a Beatle. Anderson’s vocals are okay; he sings as well as a lot of guys who make a lot more money than he does, and he has such a great ear for harmony and arrangement that he knows his limitations and how to make himself sound as good as possible.
While Anderson is still a guitar player first and a songwriter second, his writing is good and suits him well. And McCartney’s melodic influence – which no doubt affected Anderson long before he ever went to work for the former Beatle – is quite evident, especially on the track “Where Would We Go,” which could almost be a White Album outtake. That’s not to say that this CD is completely without exhibitions of guitar chops. Anderson does show off on “New Beginning,” “Under a White Star” and the album’s closing track, “Intro.” And his use (and non-use) of effects is tasteful and efficient throughout. With so many incredible guitar players in the world today Anderson is hard-pressed not to sound like just another one of them, so he’s smart to look at the entire package as opposed to just putting out a CD of guitar histrionics.
Maybe the coolest thing about Born On Earth is that it’s relatively timeless. It would fit in well with the collection of a Beatle-age music lover as well as the playlist of a college student. So even though I’m a tad let down after seeing the promise of the young guitar genius I saw so many years ago, this is also a recording by a guy I respect and admire, and that I like well enough to spin every now and again.