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From yacht-rock reinventions to Viking metal: here are this week's essential guitar tracks

Laura-Mary Carter of Blood Red Shoes performs live on stage at the Metropol on November 5, 2019 in Berlin, Germany
(Image credit: Frank Hoensch/Redferns)

Exhale, for Friday has arrived, and the weekend is almost here. Of course though, we can’t in good conscience send you off without filling your ears with guitar goodness.

We’ve got an eclectic but bountiful plate of material this week, with everything from John Mayer’s yacht-rock reinvention, to a nice, calming slice of pure Viking metal from Amon Amarth, some straight-from-the-swamps Southern rock from Blackberry Smoke, Deftones-y shoegaze metal from Blanket and a whole lot more.

Turn up the volume then, and usher in the weekend in style.

John Mayer – Last Train Home

Someone call Steve Lukather! If you thought the early ‘80s stylings of John Mayer’s upcoming eighth studio effort, Sob Rock, would extend only to its cover, its first single, Last Train Home, will comprehensively disprove you of this notion.

Head-fake or not, Last Train Home is almost as much an unsettlingly accurate sonic period piece as it is a new single. The snare sounds like it’s been recorded from the top of Everest, the front-and-center synth riff is creamy and inoffensive, but perfectly engineered to stick into your head, while Mayer gets cheered on (I Want to Know What Love is-style) with some emphatic, gospel-esque backing vocals from Maren Morris in the final chorus. 

A hot-pink Silver Sky in hand, Mayer delivers the guitar goods perfectly – no more, no less. Underneath the gloss of the synth, Mayer’s propulsive and funky rhythm work makes for wonderful seasoning, while his leads – spiked with just the right touch of gain – break through the song’s laboratory-like facade with enough panache to grab your attention, but with the restraint of a seasoned veteran who knows not to steal the show.

Oh, did we mention that the aforementioned synths are played by session ace and former Toto man Greg Phillinganes? Those flavorful conga rhythms? From the hands of another Toto alumnus, Lenny Castro.

Point is, for Last Train Home, Mayer had a crystal-clear vision. And just as he has when making a power trio blues-rock live album, or filling a stadium (or 20) with Dead & Company, or conquering radio with pop smashes, he executed it with breathtaking skill. (JM)

Blanket - Where the Light Takes Us

You wait decades for another band to capture the atmospheric metal majesty of Deftones, then two arrive at once, each putting their own distinct spin on the influential Sacramento icons’ sound. At the start of the year, Liverpudlian metalcore outfit Loathe took Chino Moreno and co’s template into heavier realms, and now Blackpool post-metallers Blanket are leaning into the ’tones’ shoegazier side.

Where the Light Takes Us comes from new album Modern Escapism, and it’s brimming with absolutely breathtaking tones that have us craving a good look at guitarists Simon Morgan and Bobby Pook’s pedalboards. The verses offer rich, modulated cleans with lashings of delay and reverb, juxtaposed with a colossal distorted chorus and an angular harmonized outro. In short, it casts a wide sonic net – and the band are fully aware of their far-reaching ambitions.

“We don't really fit in with the post-rock people, we don't really fit in with the math rock people, we don't really fit in with the metal crowd but I like that,” says Pook. “If we don't fit into any of those cliques, then we’ve found our own thing.” (MAB)

Amon Amarth – Masters of War 

In celebration of the 20th anniversary of their third studio album The Crusher, heavy metal’s resident Vikings Amon Amarth have unsheathed their axes to re-record a version of its second, carnage-inducing track, Masters of War.

Immediately apparent – aside from the change in pitch – is the upgrade in production value: while the original packs a considerable punch, this version sounds larger, clearer, and more sonically enveloping, allowing the riff work and octave dual guitar lines penned by guitarists Olavi Mikkonen and Johan Söderberg to really shine. (SR)

Counting Crows – Bobby and the Rat-Kings 

Among the many musical names that have announced a comeback this year, last month’s news that Counting Crows were returning with their first album in over seven years was met with particular enthusiasm.

Now, following the full release of Buttery Miracle, Suite One, we can all rest easy knowing our enthusiasm was wholly justified and expectations have fully been met. Elevator Boots, the first single from the record, paved the way for the rest of the highly anticipated offering, with new track Bobby and the Rat-Kings successfully continuing the record’s fine pre-release form. 

Bookended by a series of oversized Baba O'Riley-esque six-string strums, the opening exchanges give way to five-and-a-half minutes of pumping powerchords, catchy vocal hooks, subtle harmonic flourishes, and an extended, stripped-back section that precedes a frantically exquisite finale.

If you’re checking out Bobby and the Rat-Kings, you might as well check out the entire album while you’re at it. It’s only four songs long. (MO)

Blood Red Shoes - A Little Love

Long before Royal Blood blew up the two-piece alternative-rock formula, fellow Brighton outfit Blood Red Shoes were wringing maximum volume from a guitar-and-drums-only setup. Now 17 years into their career, the band have launched their first material since 2019’s fifth album, Get Tragic.

Laura-Mary Carter can be relied upon to deliver big sounds and even bigger riffs, and A Little Love is no exception, with a scuzzy verse and – when it’s safe to do so – danceable chorus. The song’s outro finds her flexing her lead chops, too, with an intense wah freakout worthy of Tom Morello’s wildest moments.

Side-note: A Little Love is the second song in the band’s history to feature a can of hairspray as an instrument, apparently. So now you know. (MAB)

Samia – Show Up

Having injected some much-needed life into the doldrums of 2020 with The Baby – an electrifying, cathartic, impossible-to-pin-down debut album for the ages – Samia is already back with a companion piece to the album, a new EP called Scout.

Its first single, Show Up, is a gorgeous, widescreen ode to friendship tinged with love and the exhilaration of community on one hand, and anxiety and restlessness on the other. 

From the song’s water-y opening riff to the towering wash of cleansing distorted power chords in the chorus, Samia’s stellar guitar-work on Show Up adds still another dimension to her already-affecting lyrics. 

If you missed The Baby, definitely go back and give it a spin, and if you like what you hear, be on the lookout for Scout. We certainly will be. (JM)

Creeper – Midnight

Arriving ahead of their forthcoming EP American Noir – which itself drops July 30 – Midnight is out first taste of new Creeper music since the group’s sophomore full-length, Sex, Death & the Infinite Void.

The track retains the same MCR-esque, operatic emo-rock stylings that define Creeper’s sound, and while the vocal interplay between Will Gould and Hannah Greenwood takes center stage for the most part, a blazing solo courtesy of guitarist Ian Miles ensures the six-string gets its time in the spotlight. (SR)

Scale the Summit – The Land of Nod (feat. Courtney LaPlante)

A little over a week ago, Chris Letchford unveiled two remarkable things: the first track from Scale the Summit’s forthcoming album Subjects – entitled Jackhammer Ballet – and, perhaps more importantly, a Kiesel CL7 with 168 programmable LEDs embedded in the fingerboard.

Now, the guitarist has unsheathed the luminescent monstrosity once again for a playthrough of the album’s second single, The Land of Nod

The track – which features vocals from Spiritbox's Courtney LaPlante – sees Letchford display lead guitar skills in abundance, with a plentiful supply of multi-string alternate picking, chugging palm-muted riffs and lush melodies to digest. (SR)

Blackberry Smoke – All Over the Road

Many try to reproduce that holy grail, golden-era-of-classic-rock sound through their six-string escapades, yet only a handful ultimately succeed. One such band who succeeds in spades is Blackberry Smoke, whose most recent album You Hear Georgia  serves up 10 tracks of pure rock ‘n’ roll bliss. 

Among the many honorable mentions is All Over the Road, which sees guitarists Charlie Starr and Paul Jackson lock into a pristine high-gain sound to serve up a sumptuous concoction of double-tracked rock riffs and raucous bottle-slide lead lines. The guitar tones are to die for in All Over the Road, as is Starr’s hypnotic lyrical flow, with one open-strum chord line propping up the track’s driving, high-octane hook.

Mixed among the melting pot of straight-out-of-the-'70s classic rock progressions and 12-bar-blues-inspired cameos are a number of six-string stabs and drum fills that keep things ticking along nicely, before a full-blown slide solo closes things out in style.

If you’re craving some classic rock-inspired romps to get your weekend started, All Over the Road – and the rest of Blackberry Smoke’s new album – is as good a starting point as any. (MO)