MASINO-CORNELL – ESP: Extra Soundtrack Perception
(2005 Rock Central)
John Masino has been wowing aspiring guitar players in the upper Midwest for some three decades with his pyrotechnic abilities and nearly flawless technique. He nearly landed the role of Foghat guitarist at one point in his career and was a finalist in a Jimi Hendrix competition in Memphis in 1999. He has played in a long list of regional bands but his recorded output has been surprisingly minimal. ESP follows the 2003 John Masino Band release Out of this World, and the advent of superior home recording technology has evidently been inspiring Masino to create and record new works. Recently the band Masino (his three-piece outfit including brother Jeff on drums and Scott Aumann on bass) played a MAMA fundraiser and I have to say, after watching John play for many years, I’ve never seen him play better. This is the kind of guitarist who either inspires you or makes you want to hang it up. Either way, it’s blast to watch.
ESP is an eleven-song, all-instrumental affair with several guest artists sitting in. Equal billing goes to long-time associate, drummer Bob Cornell. What makes ESP sound so promising is that there are some well-written songs that aren’t merely forgettable frameworks for Masino to bliss out to. The album kicks off with “Peter Gunn” (the Ventures version), one of the first songs Masino ever learned, with some embellishments thrown into the arrangement and, naturally, some blazing guitar work. “Today” is a very melodic and uplifting piece of rock texture that brings Joe Satriani to mind. Here the melodic structure of the song is the focal point, and that’s refreshing. Scott Phillips adds some nice keyboards to Albert King’s “Bad Sign” while Masino steps aside and lets Muzzy Luctin’s Paul Schluter take over the lead guitar chores. “Siesta Wave” is another standout song with some tasty slide guitar, sounding like an outtake from the first solo album by David Gilmour (of Pink Floyd). “No One Else” is another fine mid-tempo melodic rock piece with Mary Gaines guesting on fretless bass and Mike Massey adding keyboards and strings. Likewise for “Fade to Blue”, with Dick Kitchen playing keyboards.
Though it’s great to hear Masino creating new music, the mix on ESP is a bit muddy. Some of the drum tracks were recorded on V-Drums (electronic drum kit) and are occasionally mixed over the other rhythm tracks (“The Right Move”). The lower frequencies dominate and the overall volume level is low, lacking the sibilance that good mastering provides. What is a very good album could perhaps have been sensational with independent mixing and mastering. Nonetheless, ESP is an ambitious project from the area’s guitar master and one of our finest instrumentalists, hands down. It’s great to see him out in the clubs again and this is where he excels. A consummate showman and a very approachable, humble and likeable persona make Masino that rare breed of egoless musical shaman. Even with all his credentials and a very distinguished career already, it appears that Masino may still have his best yet to come.