(2011 Rock Central RC2011)
There is little dispute that John Masino is one of the best guitarists to ever emerge from Madison. He may wince at the notion that he’s been shredding up fretboards since Eddie Van Halen was still learning cowboy chords but it’s true. The man nearly got the gig for Foghat for chrissakes so, yes, he’s been around awhile. It’s inspiring to see him have such a good run of late; producing some recordings as well as gigging frequently and keeping the fire alive.
Notably, Masino has been fronting some version of the John Masino Band for many years now and while the guitar playing really can’t get much better, his singing certainly has. Masino turns in some very soulful vocals on these surprisingly structured songs, especially on the power ballads “Find My Way” and “Remember Love.” Masino is a faithful follower of Todd Rundgren, whose influence is all over these songs in addition to just about any seventies rock warhorse you can imagine. “Won’t Let You Down” and “Heaven” are particularly Rundgrene-esque, the former being an especially driving and catchy slice of straight-up rock a la early-eighties Utopia.
Lead-off track “Not Enough” is perhaps the best hard-rocker here with a wildly impressive guitar solo. While you might think the album is laced with guitar noodling, it’s not. Masino sticks to the song with carefully placed instrumental sections and he never extends things beyond what is necessary.
Really?’s subject matter has elements of lamentation to it, many of the songs seemingly informed by his recent split with his forever-wife/companion Sue. It’s a bold move and one that Masino carries off with aplomb.
Really? Is not without its issues, however. Masino self-produces in his home studio and the recording lacks the sheen of modern production. The mix is distinctly made-for-vinyl and the drums chiefly suffer for that. There is very little variation in the instrumentation as well; only the final track “Remember Love” decidedly breaks the mold by adding acoustic guitars upfront. This track also benefits from the album’s best sonic quality and the layered vocals are a nice touch. The addition of three covers also seems entirely unnecessary. The Judas Priest interpretation of “Get Back” doesn’t impress; “Born Under a Bad Sign” just seems to obvious a choice for the live set and the instrumental version of Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” is as close to hip as the record comes, although the sound is clearer here without vocals to contend with.
It would be great to hear Masino submit to a producer and outside studio (via Kickstarter?) and bring his music out of the seventies. That said, Masino is aging about as gracefully as anyone; still has the heart of a lion, the personality of your best high school chum and enough chops to send anyone else packing. You can’t call yourself a Madison music fan either unless you’ve seen his incredible live performance. If you want him to, he’ll play it behind his back or with his teeth. Long live rock!