Andy Timmons is a world-renowned proponent of instrumental rock, known just as much for his impeccable taste and gorgeous tone, as his blazing chops and harmonic dexterity. To date, the Andy Timmons Band (with bassist Mike Daane and Mitch Marine) has released seven albums of jaw dropping rock, leading up to the group’s most ambitious recording to date: an instrumental rock reading of The Beatles’ classic Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
The first thing that becomes evident upon listening is that this is by no means your parents’ Sgt. Pepper. While Timmons remains very faithful to the source material, he captures that sound in a live trio context with an absolute minimum of overdubs. While it may seem a truly daunting task, it quickly becomes evident that Timmons, Daane, and Marine are more than up to the challenge.
‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ and ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ take on a new immediacy and edge as Timmons and Co. slam through the form. On the 6 bar lead break in ‘Sgt. Pepper’s,’ Timmons tears out of the gate with a roar, unleashing gonzo chromatic bends, open-string pull-offs, and some exhilarating high wire shred work.
The crew takes a step back for the intro to ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,’ allowing Timmons to showcase his gorgeous melodic inflections. The album continues with the blues-rock stomp of ‘Getting Better’ and ‘Fixing A Hole,’ the latter showcasing those amazing vocal-like inflections once more. Timmons plays guitar with the same articulation as a soul singer, full of grace notes, pickups, and runs that keep you listening throughout. If there is one thing a guy can say about Andy Timmons, it’s that he is damn tasteful.
The rhythm section gets a moment to breathe when Timmons’ mournful electric guitar carries ‘She’s Leaving Home’ with a beautiful master class on ballad soloing. A slinky reading of ‘Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite’ turns sinister around the two-minute mark, where the band launches into a jam on the Abbey Road gem, ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy).’ Timmons goes for the jugular on this track, delivering some of his most passionate, caustic, messy, and irreverent playing, making it clear that this track is alone worth the price of the album.
The second side of the album starts with George Harrison’s psychedelic masterpiece, ‘Within You Without You.’ Marine’s drums bring the track together, slamming out an infectious, tom-tom inflected rhythm, while Timmons delivers a performance drenched in feedback and pinch harmonics. Paul McCartney’s quirky country classic, ‘When I’m 64,’ is the only time you hear truly clean guitar throughout the whole album. Timmons uses it as an opportunity to showcase some wicked country chops, but never loses sight of what the song’s sweet, kind of goofy tribute to staying together forever.
‘Lovely Rita’ and ‘Good Morning, Good Morning’ return to the album’s beginning, with the band serving up sizzling slabs of stomping blues-rock. During the outro of the latter track, Timmons pulls out some of his most outlandish moves. If anyone can figure out what he’s doing at 1:59, please shoot me an email, because I’m stumped! Timmons closes out the ‘true’ album with an elegiac rendition of the classic ‘A Day In The Life,’ managing to give the listener a fresh perspective on one of the most widely covered songs in the history of pop.
During the slower introduction, Timmons carries the song with his wonderful melodic reading of the song’s main theme. But when things start getting fast and trippy, he quickly adapts and gives the song a rocking edge with his insane bends and wide vibrato. The ending builds into a cacophonous, psychedelic whirlpool before finally landing on a crashing E major chord. For those who want to hear more, the group includes some bonus ear candy: a jam on Lennon’s classic ‘Strawberry Fields Forever.’ They really step out for this one, delivering a fiery powerhouse rendition that is sure to become a live favorite. Timmons goes nuts here, delivering the same kind of messy brilliance as heard on ‘Mr. Kite/I Want You.’
‘Sgt. Pepper’s’ is regarded as scripture by many pop and rock musicians, and few would dare to tackle it. Timmons gambled with this record, and his bet paid off handsomely, as he delivered one of the most powerful instrumental guitar records I’ve heard in quite a long time. However, the best part of the album isn’t the guitar work. You can pick up any shred album and hear great playing. What sets this album apart is the real musical statement it makes. Timmons doesn’t just shred licks over every tune as a lesser player might have done. He treats every tune with the reverence and love of a true Beatles fan, using Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Ringo’s songs not just as springboards for improvisation, but as a way to pay tribute to these musical heroes.