In the 1970s, the NASA’s Voyager powers-that-be decided in their wisdom to send our future alien buddies a little present, in the shape of a gold disc containing the basic blueprint of human achievements, culture and physionomy. There was something satisfyingly elementary and apt in their choice of music. Mozart? Puccini? Nah: Chuck Berry.
They should have sent this Matt Ragan along to play it for them.
To say this is a CD of classic guitar-based cruisin’ music is like describing Bohemian Rhapsody as a 70s pop tune with a beginning, a middle and an end. Make no mistake, this record could be the reason the electric guitar was invented; not just because of Matt Ragan’s complete mastery of the instrument, but more comprehensively that Motor City Online is nothing short of a tribute to just about every axe legend who ever lived.
They’re all here, from wammy-bar Dwane Eddy twangers to Spinal Tap guitar-wank virtuosos. From the first seconds of opener Redlining, which is a micron-perfect Berry pastiche, I’m sweet little sixteen, reelin’, a-rocking and a-rolling over Beethoven in my Stingray, my little Maybelline by my side.
So: we’re off to a perfect start, with the top down, burning rubber and throwing shapes on Main Street. Next up, we’re four-to-the-floor with a carbon-copy ZZ Top, in T-bird Whine. Longboard Shuffle, Leadfoot Lou, Nutwagon From Hell and Blown ’57 are authentic Dick Dale with a music degree, only better, and Nuclear Mutt is George Clinton Funk par excellence. Road Riot is a superb piece of Powerjive Rockabilly. Your favourite axeman? King? Lifeson? Satriani? They’re all in here, with all their peers, too.
And there’s more: Hank and The Shadows with Balls on Cowabunga Alley, Low Ride’s and Mojo Funkability’s Starsky & Hutch sass, Backseat Funk’s delicious fluidity. To boot, Drag King is high energy Boogie Woogie of the highest order. Jacked Up is a Van Halen wah-wah extravaganza, and A Groove Thang really plays that funky music, er, white boy. Even the bad stuff (Joan Jett/Gary Moore-ish metal posturings Big Bad Rat et al) are superb.
Finest moment? The truly psycho Psychobilly Slugfest (great title!) is more nimble-fingered than a bag of nimble fingers. This Ragan guy is a legend we’ve never heard of. But major kudos must also go to Matt’s fellow musicians, particularly drummer Phil Robertson, writing partner Alistair Hirst on bass, and hornists Brad, Bill and Neil. This is some band. While I thought The Fat Man and Team Fat were the perfect surf guitar legends reborn, these boys do it better, and do it ALL. And nothing outstays the perfect two-minute welcome. This is utterly breathless and breath-taking, and quite the best musicianship I’ve yet to hear on a game soundtrack. Wasted on a mere game? No way: just buy it, wind the roof down, stick the pedal to the floor, and enjoy.