Taking the Road Less Travelled
Shawn Lane’s short life was marked by hardship and tragedy but that did not stop him making it successful; as a guitarist he was enormously respected by artists of the calibre of Ted Nugent and Cream’s Ginger Baker, and collaborated with musicians including Ringo Starr, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Joe Walsh, and Jonas Hellborg.
Memphis-born Lane suffered from psoriasis from boyhood and later proriatic arthritis, whose treatment caused him to put on a lot of weight and further compounded his problem with his joints. It also often made it extremely difficult for him to play guitar. Financial difficulties, drug issues and the death of his beloved sister, Lisa, in a car accident in the early 1980s – eulogised with his Charvel 750XL on the track Epilogue for Lisa - all weighed heavily on him, as did the collapse of his marriage. Conversely, his long-desired tour of India - the year before he died - with Italian drummer Andrea Marchesini, was hailed by those who attended as a triumph.
Lane is perhaps best known for his Powers of Ten albums, but a few years before his death in 2003 he released his final studio record, the Tri-Tone Fascination (1999; Eye Reckon). Produced by Lane and Les Birchfield the album was an instrumental rock and jazz offering, on which he played guitar, keyboard, drums and bass.
It is perhaps worth highlighting the context in which this album was produced. If we focus on the most commercially successful albums of that same year, we must highlight Britney Spears’ ...Baby One More Time, which was the third best-selling album of the 90s worldwide, spending six weeks at number 1 and 103 weeks on the US Billboard 200 chart. We might also mention Christina Aguilera’s eponymous debut album, which sold over 14 million copies. Against this pop-oriented tendency, Eminem released his second studio album The Slim Shady LP, which debuted at number two on the Billboard chart, and stayed there for 100 weeks.
Lane was never going to rack up anything like these figures with a largely guitar-based fusion/instrumental album, partly because he was refreshingly disinterested in the trends of the day. His broad guitar range however can be appreciated on the opening track Kaiser Nancarrow, inspired by the Mexican composer Conlon Nancarrow, and on standout numbers like Song For Diane, The Way It Has To Be, Happy Song, Maria, and One Note At A Time.
It has been speculated that the crippling arthritis he felt in his knees in this period might have led him in a more reflective musical direction than on his previous album, and listening to tracks like Nine = 101, Trois Sept Cinq, or the exploratory Art Tatum seems to back that up.
Tri-Tone Fascination rewards the listener with Lane’s trademark extended guitar solos, contemplative ballads and catchy melodies. It closes with the beautiful Ich ruf zu dir Herr Jesu by Johann Sebastian Bach, which again illustrates Lane’s broad musical palette. In short, the album represents a diverse and innovative sonic adventure that is well worth exploring.