Sterling Witt – Satyagraha
The excitement provided by truly transformative music sometimes wanes with experience. Ecclesiastes said there’s nothing new under the sun and, to a certain extent, this dour Biblical cynicism rings true. It’s difficult to imagine how many guitar-driven four piece bands have written songs about cars, girls, summer, and having a good time and, after a few decades of hearing those innumerable variants, it’s easy to look askance on yet one more rock song railing against The Man, lusting after some woman, or living fast and dying young. If you are a true music obsessive, however, those moments never disappear entirely. If you search out new music, keep your mind open, and believe, the moment comes again. Hearing Sterling Witt’s music for the first time reminded me about that fluttering in my limbs, the lightness in my stomach, and the mental rush inspired music is capable of producing in me. His thirteen song fifth album Satyagraha crackles with the fire of real inspiration and the guitar, in particular, is super charged with the real spirit of rock and roll coupled with literate and thought-provoking lyrics.
Everything is primed by Witt’s guitar playing. There’s real finesse behind even the more raucous numbers on Satyagraha, but the defining quality coloring much of his guitar work is its physicality. The rhythm section behind him gives him the sort of gigantic foundation his six string work requires to take flight and Witt’s playing is engaging listeners from the first notes of each song. “Perception Deception” is capable of blowing out speakers if the volume is too loud – Witt and his musical partners Davy Langerak on bass and Jesse Gilpin on drums summon up a tremendous amount of energy on the opener and mix it up further with lyrics full of fire, conviction, and smarts. “Who Do You Listen To?” begins with a tricky tempo that might strike listeners in an unfamiliar way, but it doesn’t take any time to get into it. The interesting texture takes a turn into a straight 4/4 time signature quickly enough and the contrast between these opposing tempos fits quite well.
“Spiritual Revolution” is largely an instrumental effort, but Witt does throw in some loose scat singing of a sort into the song, so the vocal presence isn’t entirely non-existence. There’s a surprising flash of bluesy flair erupting from the opening of “Just So You Know” that soon transforms into some more of Witt’s trademark pared back playing. The same urgency heard in many of the earlier songs is present here as well. “I Love You More Everyday” is a ideal first single from the release because it has the album’s strongest commercial and melodic thrust, but Witt never sacrifices his artistic credibility in favor of pandering. The song has the sort of lean focus that defines the other thirteen songs on Satyagraha, but his formula for these tracks reaches the zenith of its technique here. Sterling Witt’s fifth album may not go so far as to restore your faith in modern music, but it is a timely reminder that there are artists still working, still pushing to make their voices heard, and his fifth album likely represents the pinnacle of his career as a performer and songwriter.
9 out of 10 stars.