Roine Stolt – Wall Street Voodoo
If you are thinking of buying Wall Street Voodoo, the new solo album of Roine Stolt, you’d better forget about the countless prog monuments Stolt has created with his own band The Flower Kings or his side projects with Transatlantic, The Tangent, and even Kaipa. As clearly stated, this is a solo album and it’s meant to differ from his progressive rock driven back catalog tremendously, as Stolt has stated many a time during the making of this album that Wall Street Voodoo was going to be a tribute to his earliest inspirations, mostly focusing on blues rock. It sure is interesting to discover Stolt’s musical background and see him reaching back to his roots and finding every little element that made him pick up the guitar and make music. Although this is primarily a straight-up blues rock disc mostly emphasizing Stolt’s guitar playing, some of the songs are also decorated with late-60’s era political texts.
With two discs and over 115 minutes of music, Wall Street Voodoo features only two of Stolt’s band mates in The Flower Kings: Hasse Bruniusson on percussion and new drummer Marcus Liliequist who also played on Tomas Bodin’s amazing I Am album earlier this year. The other musicians, however, are unknown at this point, as they seem to be using fake names due to contractual obligations. On bass, there is a guy called Victor Woof; while someone named Slim Pothead handles the piano, Hammond and keyboard duties. No worries though, they both do a mighty job on the album, especially given this isn’t one of those discs where excellent instrumental ability is required. Not to imply they couldn’t pull off more challenging tasks, but it just seems they are a great fit for Stolt’s material on hand. Also, there is another musician called Gonzo Geffen credited as the percussionist also responsible for ‘loop treatments’. Finally, we have a great guest on the disc, Stolt’s band mate in Transatlantic and the former Spock’s Beard songwriter: Neal Morse. Morse not only contributes a good deal of vocal lines, but he also plays his unique Hammond solos on more than a few cuts.
Seeing as they are all heavily blues inspired, the songs are hard to tell apart in most parts. That said, some of them do stand out with interesting traits, be it melody, arrangement, vocals, or simply guitar and Hammond solos. The first disc decidedly has a more unified nature, as it isn’t as experimental and quirky as the second one. It begins with the 11-minute “The Observer” which has a great wah guitar section with harmony vocals that lead into the relatively more upbeat and funky piece “Head Above Water”. One of my favourites on the album, this song is more concise (and therefore more effective) and features an extended guitar and Hammond interplay where both Stolt and Morse create magic. Arguably, the longer songs can be a bit monotonous, given they stick to Stolt’s love for 60’s blues and cause the album to lose some of its momentum. Whereas the shorter, and by short I’m still referring to 6+ minute tracks, songs have a better flow and spontaneity. “Spirit of the Rebel” is one of these tracks, starting in a very dark and moody style with oddly tuned guitars, before it leads into a classic rock tune with jumping bass lines and 4/4 drum beats. On “Dirt”, Stolt not only plays delicate acoustic guitars, but he also overdubs his vocals delivering a sociopolitcal message. I love the clean blues guitar tone he employs in the runout solo of this piece. The first disc is sealed with a nice Joni Mitchell cover (awesome bends by Stolt here) and the slow yet haunting blues piece “Outcast”, a song that must have been inspired by the late Stevie Ray Vaughan.
As stated earlier, on the second disc, Stolt, while still retaining his bluesy leanings, also utilises more modern soundscapes and funk rhythms. “The Unwanted” has a very different vocal style as well as a drawn-out middle point where all you hear is silence and sparse Moog sounds. The song then segues into a pretty Hammond lead and combines with the more modern sounding “Remember”. Electronics, synth effects and a funky bass drive are heard on “It’s All About Money”, one of those longer songs whose ending is a bit too repetitive for my tastes. Stolt’s love for funk guitar is continued on “Everybody is Trying to Sell You Something” and mixed with quirky synth signatures. The shortest piece “Mercy” has one of the weirdest vocal recordings of Stolt where his voice is overtly processed and harmonised with what seems to be an equally processed voice of Neal Morse. The duo sing together over acoustic guitars, but their lyrics are hard to follow. Percussion and loops on “People That Have the Power to Shape the Future” bring the album to its end, with more odd vocals from Stolt. Personally, the first disc has more appeal to me, because it is more direct and honest in its delivery.
With all of these things taken into consideration, Wall Street Voodoo certainly serves its purpose as a solo album, and I am glad Stolt got these ideas out of his system in order not to be confused during the writing process for the next Flower Kings offering. Because they really wouldn’t work in a progressive context, hence his choice for a solo album.