Jeff Beck is on a roll. His appearance at the 2007 Crossroads Festival turned heads, 2008’s "Live at Ronnie Scott’s" went platinum, and this year included tour dates with Eric Clapton. His new release is as much of a departure as "Blow by Blow" and "Guitar Shop" were, and like these earlier classics "Emotion & Commotion" succeeds because it finds a context that complements his dazzling guitar skills.
This time around lyricism and lavish drapery dominate. Accompanied by an orchestra, Beck pays tribute to Jeff Buckley on “Corpus Christi Carol,” breathes new life into “Somewhere over the Rainbow,” delves into a Puccini aria, and delivers a warm reading of “Elegy for Dunkirk” from Atonement. These are straightforward, irony-free interpretations—but not schmaltzy. Unfortunately that’s not the case with two new compositions, “Never Alone” and “Serene,” which feature nice guitar lines dragged down by saccharine arrangements.
Vocals have sometimes been the low point of Jeff Beck records, but both collaborations with British soul singer Joss Stone catch fire, and “Lilac Wine” with Imelda May is as memorable as Jeff Buckley’s version. And, finally, the funky Mahavishnu-tinged “Hammerhead” reminds you Beck can still blaze up and down a fretboard. The sonics are full, with rich textures, as befits so much variety and color.