Fans of eclectic music should make sure to mark this upcoming May 4 on their calendars, when guitar wizard Steve Haskin will be releasing his epic sonic anthology piece, Avenue B, far and away one of my favorite instrumental records of 2018. When I say Haskin is a wizard with an axe, I’m probably not doing him enough justice. Haskin’s grandmaster-level proficiency is extremely inspiring to listen to, and is a tribute to the immense desire that fuels the creation of art in the first place. Avenue B is sans singer, but I think you would be hard-pressed to find a vocalist with the chops and agility to keep up with Haskin and his band, whose tight interplay is the foundation of this entire record’s awesomeness.
Yes, I will admit: Steve Haskin makes the kind of music that guitar nerds live for. This album is contemporary, but can sit very comfortably on the classical shelf as well, and while its complexities are marvelously dazzling to the ears, it isn’t so overly intellectual that new fans will feel distant from the artist’s intended product. I love when you don’t have to try hard to get into a piece of music, and Steve Haskin seems to have nailed down how to make calculated feel very casual.
During my inaugural listen of Avenue B, around halfway into the record during the leering ballad “If I Asked,” whose gaze stings with each layer of strings that surrounds us, something dawned on me. Steve Haskin is not a man who loves to play and compose music. That’s a far too quaint concept for this guitar hero. No, Steve Haskin is a man possessed, fallen head over heels in love with the music, the rhythm, the melody; the straight groove that stirs the very essence of who we are. Even when the tempo slows down in places towards the end of the record, the hustle of the band never stops, as the entire studio has by now has been transformed (in our collective consciousness) into a giant concert hall containing a symphony. Avenue B is refreshingly heterogeneous and liberally produced with a myriad of influences considered, from bluegrass to flamenco and beyond. It would be quite the treat to get to see Steve and his backing band in concert, I can only picture the energy being so electric if this album is a good representative sample.
Young artists and music fans alike would do well to pick up Avenue B when it drops in May, as it is a confident, dexterous and most rewarding 40 minute look into the broad spectrum of cultures that music can unite with the right arrangement of notes strung together. Just in the time that I’ve been writing this article and listening to Steve Haskin’s extended catalogue, I’ve been compelled to ponder why more of the Billboard charts don’t reflect this kind of dedication in their top singles. Maybe it’s because the kind of exceptional skill and talent that Haskin has are not as easy to come by as they’d have you think.