Julian Lage takes an acoustic turn while Ally Venable turns up the heat in this week's essential guitar tracks

Ally Venable and Julian Lage perform
(Image credit: Ruf Records/YouTube / Julian Lage/YouTube)

Welcome to Guitar World’s weekly roundup of the musical highlights from the, erm, world of guitar. Every seven days (or thereabouts), we endeavor to bring you a selection of songs from across the guitar universe, all with one thing in common: our favorite instrument plays a starring role.

Julian Lage – The Layers

What is it? Last year, jazz virtuoso Julian Lage dropped View With a Room – his latest display of musical virtuosity. Luckily for those of us who were resigned to the fact we’d have to wait a while for even more Lage material, the jazzman has now announced The Layers, a companion piece to his Blue Note records debut.

Switching to the acoustic for the album’s title track, Lage proves he can make any six-stringed instrument absolutely sing, serving up his usual blend of sumptuous chord melodies and dissonance-tinged harmonies. There’s also a healthy helping of lead playing, which highlights Lage’s immaculate dynamism, unrivaled feel and otherworldly ability to string together melodies only his ear would be able to craft.

Standout guitar moment: It all merges into three-and-a-half-minutes of acoustic jazz bliss, but the passage at the 1:30 mark, with its chord melodies and cascading licks, is a particular highlight.

For fans of: Displays of virtuosic guitar playing

– Matt Owen

John 5 – Strung Out

What is it? Because apparently his new high-profile gig with Mötley Crüe isn’t keeping him busy enough, John 5 also dropped a new solo single this week. Though it clocks in at under three minutes, Strung Out leaves quite the impression, serving as a thundering platform for the guitarist’s jaw-loosening skill set.

Standout guitar moment: Wielding one of his trademark hot-rodded custom Teles – this one featuring a single volume knob, a pair of humbuckers, and a killswitch – John 5 puts on a technical clinic in this hard-hitting instrumental. There are highlights aplenty – that killswitch trickery simply must be shouted out – but it’s hard to beat the unison guitar and bass tapping section that kicks off at around the 2:20 mark.

For fans of: Rage Against the Machine, Steve Vai, Rob Zombie

Jackson Maxwell

Dying Fetus – Unbridled Fury

What is it? One of death metal’s most bankable bands winning this year’s award for ‘musical content that most accurately reflects the song title’. Unbridled Fury is relentless in its precision-engineered alternate-picking assault – it flirts with groovier lines but John Gallagher’s guitar work never loses sight of that sense of that pure, unadulterated savagery.

Standout guitar moment: The wild top-string/bottom-string tapping fandango that dances atop Trey Williams’ raging blast beat breakdown, all topped off by a breakneck shred finale.

For fans of: Decapitated, Cannibal Corpse, Necrophagist

– Michael Astley-Brown

Ally Venable – Real Gone 

What is it? The new single from Les Paul-toting blues rock star Ally Venable, who has announced her upcoming studio album, Real Gone! – an effort that will see her lock fretboards with Joe Bonamassa and Buddy Guy. For the title track, though, it’s all Venable, with the Texan turning up the heat – and the wah – for punchy riffs and liquid-like lead playing.

Standout guitar moment: There’s no shortage of six-string pyrotechnics in Real Gone – that solo absolute rips – but perhaps the tastiest examples can be heard in the wah-laden interlude licks, which decorate Venable’s vocals with some neat pentatonic frills.

For fans of: Jared James Nichols, Joe Bonamassa

– Matt Owen

Spotlights – Algorithmic

What is it? You know who loves Spotlights? Mike Patton. You know who else should love Spotlights? You. Ahead of a US tour with Mr Bungle and the Melvins, the New York sludge-gazers have dropped the industrial doom-vibed Algorithmic. Guitarist Mario Quintero channels Failure in those shimmering arpeggios, while those anarcho-riffs are alt-rock perfection.

Standout guitar moment: We’d like to plug into whatever fuzz Quintero is using on this track: it’s meaty, gnarly and lends the later lead lines a frazzled quality, like a Dunable reaching the end of its tonal rope.

For fans of: Failure, Torche, Baroness

– Michael Astley-Brown

Ali Farka Touré – Cherie (feat. Oumou Sangaré)

What is it? The second single from Voyageur, a forthcoming album of previously unreleased material from the late Malian guitar legend. A duet with fellow Mali native Oumou Sangaré, Cherie is a gorgeous, gently-rolling song that perfectly showcases Touré’s hugely influential six-string style.

Standout guitar moment: As with many songs in the “desert blues” genre, the money’s in the embellishments that dance around Cherie’s droning riff. The quickfire trills at 2:40 – which Touré hits while never losing the song's pulse – are the best of the bunch.

For fans of: Vieux Farka Touré, Mdou Moctar, Tinariwen

Jackson Maxwell

Ten Tonnes – Monday Morning

What is it? It’s been four long years since Ten Tonnes – aka Ethan James Barnett – dropped his eponymous debut album, but now the indie rock favorite has answered everyone’s calls and returned with both news of a sophomore studio effort and its lead single. 

Titled Monday Morning, it’s Ten Tonnes’ sound on juice, filled with festival field-filling vocal hooks and a dense layer of punchy acoustics, jangly electrics and glass-like leads. When you consider Barnett wrote, recorded, performed and produced all instruments himself – as he did across the whole of his upcoming album – it makes the effort even more impressive.

Standout guitar moment: For a self-produced effort, the tones are deserving of a shout out here, especially for the way Barnett carefully crafts his six-string soundscapes in the chorus sections.

For fans of: Sam Fender, Mystery Jets, SPINN

– Matt Owen

bdrmm – It’s Just a Bit of Blood

What is it? Freshly signed to Mogwai’s Rock Action label, UK shoegazers bdrmm have dropped the first taste of their forthcoming sophomore effort, and it is far more dynamic than many of their contemporaries. There’s a hint of NYC punk to It’s Just a Bit of Blood’s crescendos, married to the overdriven euphoria of post-rock and the meditative jam-ola of krautrock. In short, it taps into a lot of alternative guitar sweet spots, and we are very much here for it.

Standout guitar moment: The use of delay is subtle here, but those oscillating overdubs and the dreamy opening slapback are most welcome ear candy indeed.

For fans of: Slow Crush, Shame, Dry Cleaning

– Michael Astley-Brown

Sidney Gish – MFSOTSOTR

What is it? It’s been far too long since we last heard from New York City-based singer-songwriter Sidney Gish, but she’s finally back with two new tunes for the Sub Pop Singles Club. Both are phenomenal, but MFSOTSOTR will sell you on her in literally 74 seconds. 

Standout guitar moment: Gish typically performs solo with her electric guitar and a looper pedal, building her songs atop angular, hooky single-note lines and funk-informed strumming. MFSOTSOTR is built on a number of those types of figures, which weave around each other in a nervy, entrancing way that will be warmly familiar to fans of Television and early Bloc Party. 

For fans of: Television, Pavement, Bloc Party

Jackson Maxwell

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Matt Owen

Matt is a Staff Writer, writing for Guitar World, Guitarist and Total Guitar. He has a Masters in the guitar, a degree in history, and has spent the last 16 years playing everything from blues and jazz to indie and pop. When he’s not combining his passion for writing and music during his day job, Matt records for a number of UK-based bands and songwriters as a session musician.