“Maragold” is the brand new album from the rock four-piece of the same name, featuring virtuosic guitarist Greg Howe. A guitarist who should need no introduction, Greg’s playing has graced the stage along side pop heavyweights such as Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake and Rhianna. His impressive catalogue of instrumental, rock and jazz fusion guitar records are all must haves in any aspiring guitar shredder’s collection. However, in Maragold, Howe takes a different approach from what his guitar geek fans have come to expect from him over the years, working within a band and vocally driven songs.
“Howe” The Band Came To Be
The band started as an idea between Greg and long time friend and bassist Kevin Vecchione, who had played on Greg’s “Five” album and toured with him. They long talked about starting a band together, but finally turned all that talk into action when they recruited drummer Gianluca Palmieri, who played on Greg’s album “Sound Proof.” All they needed was a voice.
The group originally then started to work with a male vocalist, only to have things fall apart due to conflicts with his various other musical projects. That’s when bassist Kevin, while on tour in the Tri-State area, discovered an amazing vocal talent in Meghan Krauss, a classically trained singer who was fronting a Deleware based cover band.
Fast forward to today and the result of this collaboration is the 10 powerful songs on Maragold’s debut, self-titled album. This record has been on my radar for a while now, being a big Greg Howe fan for years, but I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. What was the pop/rock, songwriter version of Greg Howe going to sound like?
Well it turns out pretty darn good. “Maragold” doesn’t just feature four superbly talented musicians, it confidently establishes a new rock band and one that I can surely say does not sound like anyone else.
Meghan Krauss makes her first impression with tremendous authority, delivering killer soulful vocal performances that are both soulful and bold. The best way I could describe her voice is kind of like a female version of Dug Pinnick from King’s X. She has an obvious blues influence, and it works well here over the top of music that’s more progressive rock than anything else.
Meghan’s voice steals the show in a lot of ways, but I think that is no accident. Just from what I understand from what I read about the project, I think the band knew what they had in a singer and tailored the music accordingly. It’s clear to me that Greg and the gang set out to write a collection of great pop songs, and not just create an excuse to show off their chops, and that meant making sure the vocals were a focal point, which I think they did well.
However, that’s not to say the playing by the rest of the band is ho-hum. Far from it. Bassist Kevin Vecchione and drummer Gianluca Palmieri both shine in nuance, playing exactly what the song needs at the right time, and keeping a tight pocket groove. Every now and then you hear Kevin throw in a funky, slap-bass fill that’ll make you go, “Whoa, what was that?” But that’s about as flashy as the rhythm section gets.
Greg’s playing is of course fantastic, but again he doesn’t over do it with the shred factor. Most of the record is just really great rhythm guitar playing, with tasteful fills and awesome tones. Greg demonstrates on this record that he’s very comfortable laying back and letting Meghan’s voice carry the song. When the time for a guitar solo does come up, Greg seizes the moment brilliantly without overstaying his welcome, mixing simpler melodic lines along with ear-melting fusion runs that really have no business being in a pop/rock song, but somehow work.
The band’s first single, “Evergreen Is Golder,” (video below) leads off the album and is definitely their strongest track. It’s got a great vocal hook, it’s high energy and has a really fun guitar solo. The song represents the band very well, and sets the tone for the rest of the record. The second track, “Saturday Sun” keeps up the energy with a bluesy guitar riff and an uplifting chorus. For the guitar solo, Greg keeps things interesting with some creative and tasteful use of a Whammy pedal.
The fifth track on the album, “Cry,” was one that stuck out to me. This ballad starts off with a somewhat unusual guitar riff and a really cool 6/8 groove that’s a refreshing change of pace from the previous tracks. I think this song is a nice little feature for Meghan, as well as Greg, from whom we get to hear some of his more soulful, delicate playing.
“Paradigm Tsunami” is a stand out track as well, with a funky verse that’s kind of reminiscent of old Red Hot Chili Peppers, and a rocking, rowdy chorus. The guitar solo in this song is Greg at his shreddiest and wackiest, with some wild use of octaver effects. “Penniless And Sane” is a great song too that has an interesting, dancy disco feel in the verse and is a real feature for Kevin’s funky bass style.
“Maragold” is a must listen for sure. More than just the beginning of a new era for Greg Howe, it’s the forging of a new rock band, and one that I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of for years to come. And even if you’re not necessarily a guitar nerd, you simply have to check out the album for Meghan Krauss. She kills it. You can get a physical copy from the Maragold website (maragoldband.com) for $11.99 or download it from iTunes for $9.90.