Ian Crichton explains that he “got a lot of mojo back” while recording the self-titled debut from Six by Six, the longtime Saga guitarist’s new collaborative project with keyboardist/bassist Robert Berry and Saxon drummer Nigel Glocker.
Fans of the Canadian prog veteran can hear the proof in his effervescent playing, whether surging through melodic, shred-heavy runs in tandem with gospel choirs (Save the Night) or running roughshod on his whammy bar through a series of choice leads.
You could argue Crichton’s gleefully aggressive approach was a natural reaction to Saga’s last album, 2017’s Symmetry, which was a crystalline, acoustic reimagining of various hits from their five-decade career. Then again, Crichton suggests it’s been a lifelong quest to get as in-the-red as he is on Six by Six.
“To tell you the truth, I’ve been dreaming about this for years,” he says of now working in a guitar-forward power trio. “In the very early days of Saga – like the first three records – people were going, ‘where’s the guitar,’ [because] I was in amongst the keyboards playing a third harmony.
“When we got to On the Loose, [Saga’s highest charting Billboard single, off 1981’s Worlds Apart] there was a lot of guitar happening, [but] it took [some] screaming and shouting to get up there. Still, Saga is a keyboard band; [Six by Six] is a guitar band.”
That Six by Six begins with a song called Yearning to Fly is fairly fitting, Crichton rising to the occasion on the chunky rocker with an uproarious swell of trills and clouds-bursting vibrato.
GUITARS: Ernie Ball Music Man Silhouette and Ernie Ball Music Man Silhouette Special, 1964 Fender Strat, nylon- and steel-string Takamine acoustics AMP: 180-watt Diezel Herbert, Roland JC-120, 100-watt Soldano rack mount
That intense expressiveness is no Icarus-like folly, though, with Crichton’s style ultimately complementing the tune’s compact, prog-pop arrangement. He elaborates: “I like to play quick, but I really like things that make you feel: notes, melody and attitude. That’s what I try to get across with my soloing.”]
Primarily recorded at Berry’s Soundtek Studios in San Jose, album epics like Reason to Feel Calm and Battle of a Lifetime expertly bend and sway through ethereal synth-scaping, hard-edged waltzes and trem bar-finessed leads. Still, Crichton notes that he adopted a looser, off-the-cuff guitar aesthetic that differs from the “super precise” Saga catalog.
“I didn’t pay so much attention on this record to being clean, or worry about a string rattling,” he says. “There’s some noise in there, but it all adds to the ambiance – that’s where the mojo comes in, when you’re not worried about anything.”
- Six by Six is out now via Inside Out.