Tom Guerra is not just a great rocker. He needs a new title or diagnosis. Considering his extraordinary eclecticism, maybe we should call what he has Multiple Musical Personality Disorder. That’s right. The East Coast hero is able to fire out such a variety of styles any time the mood hits him it’s a little scary. From the stirring anthemic stuff by The Who to the gilded folk rock of The Byrds. Guitar playing as sleek and sinuous as Nils Lofgren or as guttural as Johnny Thunders. Songwriting that hits you in the gut, the head or the heart, depending on what is needed. A voice like a seductive Glam vampire. These gifts are especially prevalent on his new and best disc to date, American Garden. For anyone who still cares passionately about Rock ’n’ Roll, this album is a must-buy.
Where to begin? You like your power ballads hard-headed, trenchant, political and hooky as hell? Try “Blood on the New Rising Son,” one of the few good songs I’ve yet to hear about about this dire new administration. With a scorching solo by ace axeman Jon Butcher, and the stirring chant of “Hate will not replace us,” hell, this tune will make you feel a lot more empowered than any cable news show or TV panel. Guerra also pays heartfelt tribute to fallen Rock brother Tom Petty with a faithful cover of TP’s “Walls.” And kills it with “Jack For Joe,” a perfectly concise power pop gem about lost friends and growing up (“Where do we go/Now that we can’t go home again”). Fittingly, the title song is the masterpiece track on the disc. Mixing brilliant psychedelic guitar that could’ve come out of Hendrix’s hands, with a disturbing spoken word verse that is the voice of a Viet Nam vet (“In Northeast PA there are two kinds of work for your means/ You go down in the Sheppton mines or you put on your army greens”) Add a catchy chorus about healing our divided country and, well, it’s really something to hear.
So is the whole album. Timely, moving, disturbing, lyrically and musically resonant. If you still believe in this thing we call “rock” and care about our fractured country, it’s a don’t miss. It’s one of those records you feel can really change the world. Or, at least, a few closed minds.