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From serene, guitar-glazed beats to prog-metal epics: here are this week's essential guitar tracks

Joe Hottinger (left) and Lzzy Hale of Halestorm perform on stage at The SSE Hydro on November 24, 2019 in Glasgow, Scotland
(Image credit: Roberto Ricciuti/Redferns)

Whether you’re reading this at the beach, at the office or at home, you deserve a few minutes to kick back and enjoy some new music.

This week, we’ve got some sweet, guitar-heavy serenity from Hoogway & Softy, the exciting reunion of Carlos Santana and Rob Thomas, the theatrical return of Dream Theater, and much more.

So take your mind off of whatever’s troubling you. You’re here ‘cause you love guitar music, so why not try some new tunes?

Halestorm – Back From The Dead 

Three years after 2018’s rock-solid Vicious, Halestorm are truly Back From The Dead with their new single. 

If this sounds like a harsh assessment, it isn’t – it’s exactly how the band’s lead singer and rhythm guitarist, Lzzy Hale, envisioned the song, a made-for-blasting-in-the-red hard-rock anthem about coming out of the depths of depression ready to conquer any and every obstacle. 

With a hammer-of-the-gods riff, a blistering percussive performance and a heroic guitar solo from Joe Hottinger, it’s an undeniable mission statement and formidable first volley from an as-yet-untitled new album, set to arrive in 2022. (JM)

Dream Theater – The Alien

Dream Theater have a new single, and yes, it’s almost 10 minutes long. Is that any surprise? The first single from the prog metal giants’ upcoming 15th studio album, A View From The Top Of The World, The Alien sees guitarist John Petrucci, bassist John Myung, keyboardist Jordan Rudess and drummer Mike Mangini perform an instrumental masterclass, while frontman James LaBrie ponders life on Earth from an extraterrestrial point of view.

As you’d expect, the track plays host to an endless supply of unfathomably impressive lead work courtesy of Petrucci, including rapid-fire alternate picking runs, soaring bends and just about everything in between.

A View From The Top Of The World will also mark Petrucci’s first-ever use of an eight-string guitar on record.

“When I got my seven-string, I had never played one before and I didn’t know what to expect,” he explained. “The way I approached it was that it was just an extension of the range of the guitar.” (SR)

Carlos Santana and Rob Thomas – Move 

Well, it was about time, wasn’t it? A cool 22 years after they smashed a multitude of records and scooped a slew of awards with their monumental megahit Smooth, Carlos Santana and Rob Thomas have finally teamed up once again for a follow-up, which arrives in the form of Move.

It’s as if Smooth was strapped into a time machine and hurled head first into 2021. The swagger is there in spades, as are Thomas’s ridiculously catchy vocals, though both have been loaded with a mosaic of modern production sounds and arrangements. A dance-style clap track and a lo-fi-esque loop are the most notable contemporary additions, though the track never loses sight of what it’s really meant to be: a scorching Santana x Thomas team-up.

Are we missing anything? Oh yeah, Move’s guitar parts. It truly is quintessential Santana, with the PRS-wielding legend squeezing every drop of flavor, and wringing out every ounce of color, from his highly selective catalog of notes, supercharging them with a blinding wah pedal that holds its own against the wall of studio-produced sound.

We dare say it’s been worth the wait, considering it’s been over two decades in the making, though it certainly shows that the pair’s fierce musical chemistry hasn’t slipped an inch. Let’s just hope part three doesn’t take so long to arrive. (MO)

L.A. Guns – Knock Me Down

Arriving ahead of L.A. Guns' forthcoming album – and third since the reunion of original members Tracii Guns and Phil Lewis – Checkered Past, Knock Me Down sees the LA rockers deliver a healthy dose of unbridled rock ‘n’ roll.

Gain-heavy electric guitars abound, as Tracii Guns offers no shortage of classic rock-inspired, powerchord-driven riffs, and a killer solo, to boot.

But the album, as the band explain, will be anything but predictable; it’s divided up into “sets” or “suites," where a musical style is explored across several songs before moving onto the next. So throw your expectations out the window, because L.A Guns’ new LP is sure to bring some surprises. (SR)

Hoogway & Softy – Open Skies

The (largely) instrumental lo-fi hip-hop beats genre has grown rapidly in recent years, with Spotify playlists devoted to the music and its calming, study/focus-friendly tenants commanding millions of monthly listeners and, famously, a YouTube channel devoted entirely to a never-ending stream of lo-fi beats attracting tens of thousands of listeners at any given moment.

Obviously, to put the entire genre (as it would be for any genre) under one umbrella would be to over-simplify, but – for expediency’s sake for those unfamiliar – the kind of pieces that dominate these playlists and the aforementioned channel are characterized by plaintive piano motifs, gently swinging beats and, often, woozy, sun-streaked lead guitar playing. 

Though this musical uniformity has attracted some degree of controversy and derision, its best practitioners imbue the templates – like all great artists – with their own stamp. Among these standout lo-fi artists is Hoogway, for this writer’s money one of the genre’s best guitar players.

A collaboration between the Belgian producer and guitarist and Softy, a South Korean pianist and producer, Open Skies is a gorgeous sampler from the duo’s new record, Alley of Trees. Softy lays down an enchanting bed of dreamy keys, over which Hoogway freely and leisurely lays down licks that – in the way they touch on the dynamic heart of soul and the tradition of the blues with ample melodic ear candy to go around – recall John Mayer at his finest.   

We always love to say that the guitar isn’t dead, but with the undeniable decline of traditional rock music on the charts, one must reckon with how listeners are hearing the guitar today in this day and age. Again one mustn’t generalize, but it’s a fair bet to say that at least some frequent listeners of lo-fi beats are getting their first exposure to guitar-heavy music through these playlists. 

With gorgeous six-string displays like that found on Open Skies, that’s not a bad thing at all. (JM)

Ross Jennings – Violet

While he’s known for fronting English prog metallers Haken, Ross Jennings’ forthcoming solo debut, A Shadow of My Future Self, looks set to establish a fresh musical identity for the vocalist.

His new track, Violet – which follows the downtempo Grounded and the funky, anthemic Words We Can’t Unsay is testament to Jennings’ creative reinvention, trading the dizzying high-gain electric guitar work of Haken for an infectious, soulful pop-rock arrangement colored by an array of jazz-flavored scale runs and silky-smooth leads.

“Despite my history, I rarely regard myself as a metal singer, so I was in desperate need to scratch a long time itch and make a record that appeals to the broader spectrum of my musical palette,” Jennings explained. 

“With A Shadow of My Future Self, I unashamedly wear my influences on my sleeve but this is the kind of music I always imagined I’d be making before I took the path less traveled into prog metal. Needless to say, this is somewhat more accessible and radio-friendly stuff!” (SR)

Bad Bad Hats – Walkman 

The title track from Bad Bad Hats’ upcoming album – their third studio effort and first since 2018’s Lightning Round – is a testament to the three-piece’s everlasting creativity and their evergreen ability to churn out one certified indie rock romp after another.

Walkman’s innocently simple instrumentation and cleverly curated arrangement is suitable for both intimate listening sessions and festival fields, with the almost-three-minute cut boasting an abundance of both ear-catching guitar parts and vocal hooks that are so infectious you’d be hard pressed not to sing along.

The loose, where-is-this-going-to-go intro gives way to some super-tight chordal see-sawing, which in turn plays host to some ethereal, modulated lead guitar lines. Less is more, as the age-old saying goes, and Bad Bad Hats’ latest effort is proof that truer words have never been spoken. (MO)

Spirit Was – I Saw The Wheel

Though the seminal Purchase, New York indie band LVL UP sadly played their last show in 2018, its former members – all phenomenally talented songwriters themselves – are all flourishing in their own right.

Dave Benton has Trace Mountains (a project whose praises we’ve sung in these pages before), Mike Caridi has The Glow, and the band’s one-time bassist, Nick Corbo, has Spirit Was.

I Saw The Wheel, the first single from the project’s debut album, Heaven’s Just a Cloud, is a thing of beauty with some welcome LVL UP DNA (those subtle hooks that really sneak up on you) and some new approaches (that frenzied death-metal finale). 

Guitar-wise, there’s plenty to sink your teeth into here: Corbo’s biting acoustic riff, the endlessly satisfying sludge of his electric tone and the all-enveloping sonic hurricane he creates in the song’s final minute and change. No doubt aided by some of Corbo's own, custom pedals, I Saw The Wheel is the work of an innovator more guitarists should have their eyes on. (JM)

Eric Krasno – So Cold 

You don’t win a Grammy Award for nothing, and Eric Krasno’s new single So Cold – taken from his upcoming album, Always – is a sumptuous return for the guitarist who hasn’t released a solo album proper since 2016’s Blood from a Stone.

The Soulive and Lettuce co-founder is on hand to flex the tone and feel of his gorgeous guitar playing, cutting through the retro-inspired mix with some piercing lead lines and decorative, modulation-drenched flourishes. 

Boasting a huge sonic canvas dripping with chime-y percussion hits, punctuative rhythmic stabs and throwback musical motifs that pay homage to the heyday of soul music, the track gives us an insight into Krasno's new musical direction, and we're all for it.

Unfortunately, you’re going to have to wait a little while longer before you can fully sink your teeth into Always – it’s not slated to be released until February 2022. (MO)