From radical, guitar-heavy remixes to moving country-blues: here are this week's essential guitar tracks

Torres performs live at the 2018 Shaky Knees Festival in Atlanta, Georgia
TORRES (Image credit: Scott Legato/Getty Images)

It’s Thursday again, and you know what that means. Scroll further, dear reader, to immerse yourself in new music of the guitar-heavy persuasion.

Whether you’re in the mood for eyebrow-singeing shred from Gus G, a moving piece of country-blues from Eric Bibb, a radical, guitar-heavy reimagining of a Steven Wilson tune by Biffy Clyro, yet another pop-punk gem with Travis Barker on drums, or something else entirely, there’s probably a tune here that’s to your liking.

So dip your toes in. The water’s fine!

Machine Head – Become the Firestorm

Honestly, we challenge you to find a more impressive track – at least from a lead guitar perspective – from the past seven days. Arriving as part of a three-track single – with the other two cuts being Arrow in Words from the Sky and Rotten Become the Firestorm is a quintessential Machine Head tour de force, complete with unmistakably Robb Flynn natural harmonics and a plentiful supply of alternate picking.

Some truly splendid six-string interplay between Flynn and co-guitarist Wacław Kiełtyka enters the fray at around the 2:49 mark, before a solo – that can be regarded as nothing short of an exercise in bravado – reinforces Machine Head’s six-stringery as some of the best in the metal game. (SR)

Eric Bibb – Born of a Woman (feat. Shaneeka Simon)

The second single from blues veteran Eric Bibb’s upcoming album, Dear America, Born of a Woman is a veritable cornucopia of blues guitar excellence.

A powerful lament on the horrors of domestic violence, the song gets its drive from Bibb’s determined, dynamic acoustic fingerpicking, its emotional punctuation marks from his stinging slide work (both acoustic and electric, no less), and even some atmospheric ambiance with Bibb’s subtly beautiful harmonics. 

Sharing the spotlight with Shaneeka Simon, who puts in a moving vocal performance, Bibb tackles the heaviest of subjects with a grace, understatement and composer’s instinct that showcases his ample skills as both a songwriter and guitarist. (JM)

Steven Wilson – Personal Shopper (Biffy Clyro remix)

The British prog torchbearer made headlines earlier this year after dubbing guitar’s musical vocabulary “exhausted” – and, unsurprisingly, his latest release, The Future Bites, wasn’t especially six-string-focused.

His collaboration with Biffy Clyro, then, will come as a breath of fresh air for anyone missing his guitar-led Porcupine Tree days – and, indeed, Biffy’s heavier moments, as this reimagining ditches the frenetic electronica of Personal Shopper in favor of a positively crushing single-string riff and discordant lead line.

The one-two gut punch of Simon Neil’s fragile Stratocaster chords and emotive octave melody serve as a reminder of the band’s knack for stadium-sized instrumentals – we would most definitely be up for a new Biffy album along these lines, although we could probably do without Elton John’s spoken-word shopping list over the top. (MAB)

KK’s Priest – Sermons of the Sinner

Described as an “all-encompassing tribute to the history of our beloved genre of music”, Sermons of the Sinner sees KK’s Priest – the new group featuring former Judas Priest members KK Downing and Tim “Ripper” Owens – unleash a truly scorching arrangement, with the guitar work of Downing and fellow guitarist AJ Mills serving up a volley of jaw-dropping classic metal-inspired lines.

And because both Downing and Mills possess immeasurable talent on the fingerboard, they’ve divvied up lead responsibilities equally, each putting forth a uniquely dazzling display of shred.

Says Downing: “We are very hopeful that Sermons of the Sinner will inspire young and older musicians alike to pick up their instruments and keep alive the rock music that so many of us have become a part of.” (SR)

KennyHoopla – Smoke Break (feat. Travis Barker)

There will come a week when Travis Barker doesn’t feature on a track in Guitar World’s weekly roundup. However, it’s not going to be this week, as the Blink-182 rhythm king-turned-session man has cropped up once again, this time on a recent release from pop-punk phenom KennyHoopla.

The collaborative album, titled Survivors Guilt: The Mixtape, is an oversized ode to music genre, taking KennyHoopla’s more subtle indie-rock reflections of his previous outings and injecting them with Barker’s Blink-182 style of supercharged punk.

Take Smoke Break, for example. A quick hammer-on and pull-off passage punctuated by some harmonic chimes and the track explodes, thick with Barker’s steady open hi-hats and punctuated kicks, which form the track’s super-tight foundations. 

The main riff continues throughout, save the stripped-back verse sections that give KennyHoopla’s vocals center stage, with some epic vocal harmony interplay hitting all the right notes and tugging at all the right heart strings during the finale.

Come for that super-sweet high-gain riff, stay for KennyHoopla and Travis Barker’s immense musical chemistry. In fact, stay for the whole album while you’re at it. (MO)

TORRES – Hug From a Dinosaur

The best songwriters always have a knack for taking something that may seem innocuous on the surface – something they see while out and about, an encounter, or a gesture – and using it as a seed for something far greater and more meaningful.

On Hug From a Dinosaur, Mackenzie Scott – who records under the TORRES moniker – uses the premise of bringing her girlfriend (a painter) lunch so she doesn’t have to stop working as the means to show her devotion to someone who, in her words, embodies “the best of all possible worlds”.

The touching narrative is punctuated by the sort of crunchy, grungy riff that’ll immediately make you wanna plug in and play yourself. The intermittent, shotgun powerchord blasts in the second verse are a nice, spunky touch as well.

If you’ve slept on TORRES, keep an eye out for her upcoming record, Thirstier. If its singles are any indication, it’s shaping up to be one of the best rock records of the summer. (JM)

Big Wreck – Middle of Nowhere (feat Chad Kroeger)

If you believe everything the internet tells you, Nickelback are one of Canada’s most overrated exports. Yet here, photograph-waving frontman Chad Kroeger partners with perhaps one of the country’s most underrated bands for a hard-blues stomper of a single.

Big Wreck frontman Ian Thornley, of course, can be relied upon to deliver god-tier vocals, and Kroeger – whatever you make of his music – has always had a serious set of pipes himself.

That alone makes for a mainstream rock collaboration par excellence, but it’s Thornley’s unquestionable taste and enviable technique that elevates the track above common-or-garden radio rock, with some astonishing wah-heavy legato runs and pitch-perfect bends. No matter who he’s playing with, Thornley truly can do no wrong. (MAB)

Gus G – Fierce

Gus G this week offered the second single from his upcoming, as-yet-untitled new solo record. In what he describes as “a fast song” with “lots of shredding” – and he's not at all wrong – Fierce features a bountiful array of pummeling palm-muted rhythm lines and dizzying leads, and is true to form for the Ozzy Osbourne/Firewind guitarist.

“If you guys like my past instrumentals or stuff that Firewind has done – the fast stuff – you're gonna like this,” Gus explains.

“This is going to be my first all-instrumental album,” he continues, “so there’s a lot of guitar on it. [There’s] different things on it – not just metal stuff. There’s some more mellow, bluesier things, but then, of course, there’s a lot of shredding, too.”

And if you're keen to hear more, you're in luck: Gus confirmed that there will be “more singles coming out” in the coming months. (SR)

Amythyst Kiah – Fancy Drones (Fracture Me)

Apologies for being ever-so-slightly late on this one, but sleep on Amythyst Kiah’s contemporary take on rootsy blues at your peril.

Fancy Drones (Fracture Me) is taken from upcoming album Wary + Strange and weaves classic soul influences with a sharp, savvy production. Its main riff can be traced back to blues guitar's earliest proponents, but a wealth of distorted textures and muted chugs lend a contemporary edge that serves to amplify Kiah’s impassioned vocal.

On evidence like this, it’s easy to see why she’s landed herself a trio of Americana Music Award nominations, with Tele-toting great Jason Isbell the only artist equalling that achievement this year. (MAB)

Smoothboi Ezra – Without Me

Rising Irish indie-rock artist Smoothboi Ezra has made a name for themselves through a string of well-received singles that serve up an eclectic mixture of melodic guitar licks, catchy chord progressions and insanely well-written vocal lines. 

With their latest release, Ezra has delivered the goods once again. Taken from EP Stuck, Without Me is a whistle-stop tour of what makes Smoothboi Ezra such a force to be reckoned with. Chime-y electric guitars ring throughout, with Ezra cleverly playing with the production to pit open-string bursts alongside more muted, angsty strums.

A recurring thematic lick crops up, with the simple-but-effective motif managing to break up each of Ezra’s verse sections with a nonchalant guitar-driven interlude. It’s ever so slightly off the beat, but Ezra’s deliberately downbeat execution is what makes this track so tasty.

Smoothboi Ezra has yet to release a full-length album, but we’d wager that, when it finally arrives, it will be worth the wait. (MO)

Parcels – Free

Parcel’s latest track, Free, is a reminder of the versatility of everyone’s favorite stringed instrument. You won’t find any fretboard acrobatics here, nor will you find any show-stopping lead runs. What you will find, however, is a bounty of subtle, yet deliciously perfect, guitar contributions placed alongside a bounty of funk-fueled bliss.

Beginning as one-note single-coil stabs hidden deep within the mix beneath a layer of building keys, strings, vocals and the odd cowbell, the guitars soon emerge from their backline-bound shackles for some eloquent chordal constructions, executed with just the right amount of right-hand flair.

With the guitar, it’s one helluva funky romp, and a demonstration of how, even when used sparingly, the guitar can turn a track into an anthem. Without it? Well, thankfully we won’t have to find that out. (MO)

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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.