To those outside the Frank Zappa/Steve Vai fanbase, Mike Keneally is probably not a name you're familiar with. Keneally is a highly proficient guitarist AND keyboardist, plus a songwriter and bandleader. He played with Zappa's last touring band in 1988 and had a stint in Vai's band (heard on the stunning Alive in an Ultra World album). Steve Vai invited Keneally to record an album of solo piano arrangements of his songs, and released a CD on his private label in 2004. As far as I know, Keneally has only produced this one solo piano disc, but I am calling your attention to it because the quality of arranging and playing is absolutely top-notch. Plus, Keneally comes to the piano with a truly rock-music background (as opposed to a classical or jazz background).
The original song, from Steve Vai's Fire Garden album, is like an update on the 80's power ballad for a new era. The lyrics are basically praising the mysterious power of women (with Eve as the representative of all women). It's a midtempo track which veers between hushed, intimate verses and hard-rockin' singalong choruses (hence my allusion to power ballads from days of yore…). The harmonic twists and turns are characteristic of Vai and some of his very best, appealing and yet slightly unpredictable, while the electric guitar is used both for high soaring melodies and gently undulating chord patterns.
The pianist's main challenge in adapting this song is to create the requisite dynamic and textural shifts between verses and choruses while maintaining the fairly slow tempo. It would be easy for the choruses to feel empty, since there's no drumset to kick in, no distortion to crank up, and no backing singers to appear. Keneally plays the verses intimately, with absolutely gorgeous melodic shading and embellishments. The choruses are powerful without being overly loud - 2:43 and 4:15 are two examples. The guitar solo (3:20) is rendered exquisitely, enough to make one forget that it was ever anything but a piano solo. I only wish that a wider audience would discover this album and give Keneally reason to record more like it!
The CD is currently out of print, but you can contact this store to put in your request. Until then, YouTube has all of the tracks from the album for your listening enjoyment.
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