This writer does not often venture into blues rock (Yes, I know- that’s an heretical statement given coverage of the form on these pages) but shining talent exists in every genre. Brazilian guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter Artur Menezes stands apart from the sameness that far too frequently populates this kind of music. Fading Away, burns as hot, often even hotter than many blues-rock efforts but Menezes adds different textures and tones with more complex arrangements, layered guitars, and background vocal tracks that set him apart from the competition. Produced by Josh Smith in his California studio, the album features guest appearances by Smith (a fine guitarist himself) as well as Joe Bonamassa. Menezes combines vintage influences with his own contemporary style of songwriting that draws from soul, modern rock, and occasional Brazilian rhythms, forming a contemporary approach with echoes of Hendrix, Clapton, and Page. And while an artist such as Bonamassa gets far more ink, Menezes has a sound that proves far more interesting and engaging.
Fading Away is Menezes’ fifth album and his second stateside. and is the sort of career-making effort that leads artists to the big time., Menezes has won the Gibson/Albert King Award for Best Guitarist at the Blues Foundation’s 2018 International Blues Challenge in Memphis, where he also took third place in the overall competition. In 2019 he was the Grand Prize Winner in a contest promoted by Ernie Ball, winning the opportunity to perform at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival.
Menezes leads off these eight originals with his title track “Fading Away.” The song starts with a heavy Hendrix guitar groove but quickly becomes more melodic. Artur’s smooth vocals lead into a crunchy guitar solo in the tune’s middle section. “Devil’s Own” opens with haunting sounds before morphing to a slow blues burner. “Come On” is a straight-ahead rock song with Bonamassa guesting with his typical incendiary solo while Menezes works more on the bottom in a slower tempo. Admittedly, the combination works well. The instrumental “Northeast” is a mix between blues and “baiao,” a rhythm from the northeast of Brazil, nodding to Menezes homeland.
Producer Josh Smith trades axes with Menezes on the funky “Free At Last,” assisted by stellar support from Carey Frank on organ, Travis Carlton on bass, and Matt Mitchell on rhythm guitar. While the tune is funky, it does not get bogged down in the usual cliches and the soaring guitar and background choruses provide an uplifting close. Menezes moves into a cool, ballad mode on “Until I Can See” with his exceptional guitar tone and vocalists punctuating his vocal croons. The album highlight is the epic closer, “Green Card Blues,” his autobiographical journey laced with searing guitar that soars about the heavy standard blues riff. This is where Menezes best displays his true mastery of the fret board, working both the low and high ends masterfully, bending and twisting notes, using feedback judiciously in the process.
Menezes stands apart from the crowded field of soundalike blues rockers. Fading Away is not only a powerful guitar album; it has some good songwriting too.
- Jim Hynes