Skip to main content

From industrial doom to swampy acoustic blues: here are this week's essential guitar tracks

Ariel Posen
Ariel Posen (Image credit: Olly Curtis/Future)

While it’s not quite the weekend just yet, we can always rely on guitar-wielding wizards and six-string slingers around the world to unite and offer up a fresh batch of weekly wonders to drag us moving-and-grooving through Thursday evening and over the Friday finishing line.

As has been the case throughout these past Covid-riddled months (or is it years?) of uncertainty and inconsistency, we’ve been blessed with what seems like a never-ending abundance of mood-brightening, spirit-lifting and soul-cleansing sonic offerings that remind us that, in reality, the world isn’t all that bleak. This week is certainly no exception.

In no particular order, today’s feature-packed installment serves up a spell-binding shred-meets-acoustic anthem from Mike Dawes, Jack Gardiner and Plini, a riff-heavy pop romp from Olivia Rodrigo, some mind-boggling guitar lines from Bobby Keller, delicious dual-guitar interplay from Night Ranger and an awe-inspiring acoustic reimagining from Ariel Posen, plus much more.

Sounds good, right?! Well, let’s not waste any more time and get started...

Mike Dawes - Push ft Jack Gardiner & Plini

Given his propensity for playing percussion, rhythm and lead all at once, Mike Dawes doesn’t really need any other guitar players to help him work his particular brand of fingerstyle magic. Yet he sought to break the mould this week by recruiting two of contemporary electric guitar playing’s brightest talents.

The resultant track, Push, is a masterclass in arranging intricate guitar parts that don’t step on each others’ sonic toes. Dawes knows his way around a catchy two-hand tapped riff, but Gardiner’s ability to play all the right notes in all the right places – with modal runs and bends to die for – elevate this particular composition to a celestial plain.

Add in a Plini solo packed with wild slides and colorful dynamic contrast, and you have a recipe for one of, not only this week’s, but this year’s essential guitar tracks. (MAB)

Olivia Rodrigo - brutal 

That the Disney-to-the-top-of-the-charts pipeline that’s produced the likes of Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Selena Gomez, to name but a few, is still robust shouldn’t come as surprise to anyone. What is surprising, though, is just how 18-year-old Californian Olivia Rodrigo has gone about using her flourishing TV career as a launchpad for conquering the pop charts. 

With its liberal F-bombs, stylistic unpredictability and a buffet of ever-so-quotable lyrics that capture the epic highs and lows of being a teenager in a way few pop albums in recent memory have, Rodrigo’s debut LP, Sour, has a fierce independence and attitude that has caught the world’s attention in record-breaking fashion.

Propelled by a sledgehammer of a riff played by the album’s producer, Daniel Nigro, brutal – the album’s leadoff track – could’ve come straight from the bowels of London in 1976. “Where’s my fucking teenage dream?” Rodrigo sneers before the song’s distorto-bubblegum chorus kicks in, with the second chorus even capped off with some mild six-string dissonance.

One can still listen to this and bemoan the lack of overall guitar in the pop charts – it’s allowed. We can’t imagine, however, that brutal won’t inspire scores of listeners to pick up a guitar for the first time and air their own grievances with the help of some big, brash power chords. 

And if we can’t celebrate that, what can we celebrate, really? (JM)

Ariel Posen – Heart By Heart (acoustic) 

We’ve marveled over the album, we’ve listened to all the licks, and we all thought there was no way we could fall even more in love with Ariel Posen’s latest album Headway, right? Right?!

Well, we thought wrong. Luckily for us, the blues-rock master and slide virtuoso isn’t done with Headway just yet, and has treated us to another trick he’s been hiding up his sleeve – an all-acoustic EP that transforms the album’s high-gain blues ballads into sensational stripped-back numbers.

The acoustic version of Heart By Heart – introduced initially by Posen as a fuzzy, swamp-infused strut that layers on the swaggering slides and slinky progressions – is reimagined as a totally different beast altogether. Stripping away the overdrive, bite-y tube amp tones and venue-filling instrumentation, Posen puts his acoustic through its paces, offering up a smartly succinct but equally enveloping six-string demonstration of his unrivaled chops.

The solo sounds as good on the acoustic as it does on the Mule Resophonic Posencaster, with Posen letting loose on an intimately dynamic lead, spanning a stunning sonic range that lets you hear both the tones of the fretboard as he snaps away and his fingers as they glide over the strings.

We shouldn’t be surprised, really. It’s no secret that Posen possesses some of the tastiest licks around right now. This latest acoustic offering is just another friendly reminder that, if he wasn't already on your list of go-to guitarists, he should be. (MO)

The Dead Deads – Murder Ballad II (ft. Corey Taylor)

Corey Taylor is something of a modern day Renaissance man. Beyond his ferocious vocal work in Slipknot and Stone Sour, and his recent and rather eclectic debut solo effort CMFT, the metal frontman is often partial to the odd guest appearance.

In 2021 alone, Taylor has appeared on tracks by country rap outfit Moonshine Bandits and Anthrax drummer Charlie Benante, and with this new feature on a single by Nashville rockers The Dead Deads, he makes it a hat trick.

Following Murder Ballad – taken from the trio’s 2016 album For Your Obliteration Murder Ballad II's Taylor-infused vocals are underpinned by a subdued tempo, and a theatrical backdrop of acoustic guitars and overdriven octave electric guitar lines. This one’s really moody, and impeccably put together. (SR)

Chelsea Wolfe - Diana

While last album, 2019’s Birth of Violence, saw Wolfe return to her acoustic folk roots, Diana plugs back into the industrial doom that fueled Abyss and Hiss Spun.

With longtime collaborator and guitarist Ben Chisolm on production duty, the track is anchored by a menacing ascending bassline that gives both guitar players the chance to ramp up the distortion, adding eerie fuzz wails and discordant pitch-shifted lines to bolster the sense of unease.

Of course, tempering the acerbic nature of the guitar playing is Wolfe’s otherworldly voice – that seems wholly appropriate, given Diana is inspired by Wonder Woman, and forms part of the awe-inspiring artist roster for the forthcoming Dark Nights: Death Metal Soundtrack, alongside the likes of Mastodon, Manchester Orchestra and Soccer Mommy. We can’t wait to hear more. (MAB)

Wye Oak - TNT

Having already released one of 2021’s most spellbinding guitar-based albums, Head of Roses, under the Flock of Dimes moniker, Jenn Wasner has teamed up with Wye Oak bandmate Andy Stack once again to release TNT, the first of what the duo says will be two standalone singles, with another arriving next month.

Wasner says that TNT is about “joyfully acknowledging all of the ways in which you’ve grown while trying to accept the parts of yourself that are still stuck in patterns of repetition,” and the beautiful fingerpicked riff around which it revolves reflects this perfectly, both calming the listener with its repetition and stretching out dynamically whenever it pleases. 

Between this beauty and Head Of Roses, Jenn Wasner is having one hell of a year. Sleep on her work at your peril. (JM)

Night Ranger – Breakout

Arriving ahead of recently announced 12th studio album ATBPO Breakout sees Night Ranger guitarists Brad Gillis and Keri Kelli serve up an impressively diverse range of classic rock-fueled riffs, in addition to a jaw-dropping supply of lead lines.

The track kicks off with a killer ascending dual guitar line, before evolving into a straight-talking hard rocker with its palm-muted riff taking center stage. But perhaps the standout moment of Breakout is the mind-bending guitar solo, which comes across as a furious guitar battle between both Gillis and Kelli.

ATBPO was recorded during the pandemic, meaning each member of Night Ranger had to track their parts separately. As Gillis explains: "It’s been a crazy but fun task trying to write and finish this new record in a Covid situation. A few Zoom video gatherings got us started, [and] with everybody in the band having their own home studios, we were all able to elaborate and add our own textures to each song." (SR)

Bobby Keller – Perpetual Dreams 

If you’re on the hunt for a healthy dose of high-octane riffage, fretboard-melting soloing and dizzying technical prowess, you can call off the search party, because Bobby Keller has you covered.

With a shred-heavy sonic arrangement, complemented by a serenely picturesque music video that sees him rip through his single while waltzing through the wilderness, Keller’s latest track Perpetual Dreams delivers all of the above, and then some.

No stranger to mind-boggling guitar instrumentals – see Reign In Fire and Light Bearer – the Orlando native’s latest lead-heavy escapade certainly ups the ante, eloquently combining blinding two-hand tapping sequences, oh-so melodic single-string slides and tasty bend-infused passages. Not one to be missed. (MO)

The L.I.F.E. Project – Ignite

The second offering from Josh Rand’s new side project The L.I.F.E. Project, Ignite features the same heavy-riffing formula heard on the duo’s debut single The Nothingness, though this time with more emphasis on melody from vocalist Casandra Carson.

If you thought the solo on The Nothingness was a one-off, wait until you hear what Rand has in store for Ignite. It’s a lead passage wrought with tasteful metal-flavored melodic runs, soaring pinch harmonics and the occasional alternate-picking flurry.

Rand says that The L.I.F.E. Project is a chance for him to experiment with a heavier sound than he uses in Stone Sour.

He explains: “The gear itself really didn’t change – we just added more gain – but the real secret to the sound is the amps being turned up to eight and nine to make them scream. It was so loud when we were tracking guitars that it kept setting off the glass break alarm in my house.” (SR)

Jim Ward - Foreign Currency

Jim Ward is something of an unsung hero in the world of post-hardcore, lending jagged rhythms and angular riffs to the likes of At the Drive-In and Sparta. Now, he’s branching out on his own with forthcoming solo effort, Daggers.

The album features the formidable rhythm section of Incubus bassist Ben Kenney and Thursday drummer Tucker Rule, who provide a muscular backing to Ward’s dotted-eighth delay lines on just-dropped track, Foreign Currency.

Teaming characteristically urgent playing with big ’90s alt-rock chorus hooks, Foreign Currency is forthright and contemplative in equal measure, and showcases Ward’s knack for guitar tones that bridge the raw and the ethereal. (MAB)