MICHAEL ANGELO BATIO
"Hands Without Shadows"

(M.A.C.E.)

01. Burn
02. Tribute to Randy
03. Zeppelin Forever
04. Hands Without Shadows
05. Wherever I May Roam
06. Dream On
07. Pray On, Prey
08. All Along the Watchtower

RATING: 7/10

A solo album from the guy from NITRO — you know, the one with the goofy four-necked guitar and hair up to here? Diehard shred guitar enthusiasts know that Batio is a lot more than that, and has been dazzling with his over-the-top fretboard skills in instructional videos aimed at the Guitar Institute of Technology crowd. Now he's put together this tribute album, featuring instrumental homages to his heroes, from DEEP PURPLE to RANDY RHOADS to HENDRIX.

When Doug Marks, of those "Metal Method" ads in the back of your old Rip and Hit Parader magazines, does a guest solo on an album, you can bet it's gonna be dripping with speed-picking and ludicrous soloing. And you're right — this is the kind of stuff that makes the average fan's eyes glaze over in most circumstances, while causing blister-fingered guitar geeks to cream in their acid-washed jeans. Batio has come up with an interesting hook in this tribute concept, though — take "Tribute to Randy", for instance. He plays pretty much all of "Crazy Train", sans vocals, with tweaked arrangements allowing maximum shreddage, and then slips into the midsection of "Mister Crowley"! The LED ZEPPELIN medley is even more ambitious, stuffing half a dozen classic tunes into a seven-minute highlight reel, showing off some fancy acoustic picking in the "Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You" section.

See, that's the genius of it — someone who doesn't know the difference between Joe Stump and Joe Ptacek (laugh at that and you're a bigger nerd than me) is still gonna have a frame of reference. It seems to work better when Batio is pulling off the medleys — his straight take on AEROSMITH chestnut "Dream On", while sufficiently dazzling, sometimes sounds like a Muzak-ed version of the song commissioned by a low-budget film producer who couldn't get the rights to the original. And his "All Along the Watchtower" is, frankly, dull, in a b-movie film score kind of way. But the Rhoads and ZEP medleys, and the ripping take on DEEP PURPLE's "Burn" that opens the album, more than make up for those.

A project like this makes a lot of sense for another reason, which is that most of these shred guys can't write an honest-to-god song to save their lives. Batio actually doesn't do too bad on his two originals enclosed here — the title cut, especially, is well-arranged, interesting, and has enough guts in its playfully proggy, metallic rhythms to justify itself (plus, some of its more intricate moments recall TOURNIQUET, which is never a bad thing).

If you're a diehard shred-o-holic, go ahead and up the rating above to about 12, and have at it. "Hands Without Shadows", despite its interesting hook and the novelty factor, is still pretty much gonna be for guitar maniacs only, but more adventurous and curious metalheads may find Batio's interpretations of their favorite classics interesting. If nothing else, this should help change the world at large's perception of Batio as a big-hair buffoon, and show off his real talent to a lot more people.

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