|Kaphan pioneered new territory for the pedal steel in the 90's as a member of alt-rock cult favorites American Music Club, where he quickly liberated the instrument from its Nashville stereotype. Slider is a more extensive rethinking of the pedal steel, with its silvery, liquid tone refracted through Kaphan's personal harmonic vocabulary, skillful arrangements and wide-ranging stylistic compass.
His pedal steel work with AMC also led to pedal steel sideman dates on recordings for REM, Jewel, The Black Crowes, Love and Rockets, Chris Isaak, Red House Painters, Jellyfish and others. Career highlights include playing with John Lee Hooker on his Grammy-winning Chill Out. Bruce spent most of '97-'98 on the road playing with former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne. Since then he's focused on film scoring and sound design, producing albums for various Bay Area bands and artists, and doing his first solo album.
Slider achieves something rare in popular music: a new face on an old favorite, a creative synthesis of ambient, pop, country, Indian, electronic music - and Bruce Kaphan. Like water under the desert, these pieces were always there. They just had to be tapped.
Excerpted from the Slider liner notes by Stephen Hill at Hearts of Space.
It is possible to both listen to samples from and purchase Slider online at Hearts of Space, Amazon, www.b0b.com and other websites. Slider is also available at many retail stores across America and in other countries. If you are unable to purchase online, and can't find it in your local store, please feel free to either email firstname.lastname@example.org - we'll try to find a store in your area - or send a check for $17.50 (includes tax and shipping) to Bruce Kaphan, P.O. Box 2012, Fremont, CA 94536, USA. Please include your name and address and indicate that you would like to purchase Slider.
MCentralStation From GREEN MAN REVIEW, September 2001 "Before we listen to the music on Bruce Kaphan's CD, it's important to understand how he gets those sounds. The pedal steel guitar is not so much a guitar as it is a machine, a vast incomprehensible piece of mechanical wizardry. Wires, boards, tuners, levers, knobs and, of course, pedals all fit together to make either the most annoying sound imaginable, or music to lift the heart. Last month at an Everly Brothers' concert, all the stage crew guys at Hamilton Place couldn't put Buddy Emmons' pedal steel together until halfway through the second song. When they finally succeeded it was magic. At its most basic, it is an expanded version of the Hawaiian lap steel, the most obvious difference being the pedals. It is played by moving a steel bar up and down the strings. On a lap steel you are limited to major chords or single notes because of the inflexibility of the steel bar; but the pedals of the pedal steel guitar allow for movement of strings while you play. Physically, playing the pedal steel requires the use of both hands, both feet and both knees. It requires concentration to ensure your intonation is correct, and an engineer's degree to tune!"
"Okay, that last bit is a slight exaggeration, but only slight. Musicians joke about the pedal steel. That night in Hamilton, Don and Phil inquired about the steam power required to operate Buddy's guitar. This is the instrument which separates the men from the boys! Brice Kaphan is clearly one of the men!"
"Subtitled, ambient excursions for pedal steel guitar, Slider is a completely instrumental solo extravaganza. Bruce Kaphan has played behind such people as the Black Crowes, Chris Isaak, Jellyfish and David Byrne. He was also the pedal steel player for the American Music Club. On Slider he is on his own."
"The songs, or compositions, are titled according to the mood of the piece. 'Clouds' floats about the horizon, dreamily. 'Country and Eastern' places the ultimate C&W instrument into an urban center. These sound like soundclips from un-made movies. There is a sameness to some of the pieces, but they are all virtuosic performances by a master craftsman."
"Ambient music is designed to surround the listener with sound. It should create images and perform psychic magic. It should transport you to other places. Listen to these 'ambient excursions' and be lifted on an 'Arc of Flight', or ride the 'Sideways Carousel'. Enjoy the humour of Kaphan's string manipulation on 'Homage (Pour La Grande Fromage)'. Let the swirling, gliding sounds of the pedal steel take you to new places. Visit the evocative world of Slider."
"For more information about Bruce Kaphan visit his website and for an incredible visual tour of the pedal steel guitar go here."
From The Aspectarian, July 2001
"Simply put, Kaphan takes the luscious, liquid tones of pedal steel guitar out of the country-western milieu and arranges it for ultimate ambience. With softly strummed lead lines and sing-song resonance, the pedal steel is an instant attention-arresting instrument; in the hands of a virtuoso like Kaphan, it simply sounds like nothing else on earth (a fact taken for granted by David Byrne, Chris Isaak and others who've hired Kaphan to spruce up their sound). The unique properties of the metal are fully exploited on tunes like the dreamy, flowing 'Clouds' and electronically manipulated art-noise of 'Back to the Light.' But Kaphan has the most fun on cleverly titled tunes like 'Big Brain, Small Brain' and 'Homage (Pour la Grande Fromage' [translation from French: 'For the Big Cheese"]),' wherein the former is an over-the-top romantic power ballad devoted to the instrument's diva-like vocal abilities, and the latter is a driving excursion through the Southwest's deep blue canyons and pancake flat vistas that enables the soulful song of the steel to emerge unhindered. These two stylistic extremes blast through the boundaries of previous pedal steel recordings, and deservedly introduce a new generation to the artistic possibilities of such a superb -- albeit usually under-utilized -- instrument."
Review by PJ Birosik
From Blue Coupe, July 2001
"One of the dead giveaways for a real down and dirty country and western song is the twang of the pedal steel guitar. For years it has been associated with the genre more than just about any other instrument -- fiddle and washboard included -- its sound mirroring the vocals of someone singing about the loss of their significant other, dog or pickup truck."
"Though the pedal steel guitar often epitomizes country music, it is not country music. An instrument -- whatever it may be -- is just a tool, a piece of technology to be exploited and any stereotyping that we impose upon it is unfair. It would mean that a saxophone could never be used for anything other than jazz, a violin for anything other than classical or bagpipes for anything other than, well, whatever genre bagpipes happen to fall under."
"Thinking outside of the box -- or genre as the case may be -- with exploration and experimentation is what helps to broaden an instrument's repertoire and goes a long way in understanding how to expand its boundaries: often helping us discover a new niche for an instrument by using it in a way we never thought it could or should be used. Slider: Ambient Excursions for Pedal Steel Guitar has engineer, producer, session player and multi-instrumentalist Bruce Kaphan boldly stepping over the line into a region largely dominated by electronic keyboards and synths and concentrating solely on pushing the ambient envelope with the pedal steel."
"You might think that a whole album dedicated to nothing but the pedal steel guitar would get a bit overbearing or monotonous, but such is not the case. If anything Kaphan branches out into diverse and undiscovered territory bringing forth such luscious sounds that you forget you are listening to an instrument often played by someone wearing the prerequisite Stetson and matching shit kickers. On many of Slider's songs the bright, hard edges and typically shimmering sound of the pedal steel guitar is still there. However, gone for the most part is the country music phrasing and cord progressions -- the one exception being 'High Desert,' which plays wonderfully with the root sounds of the country genre and creates a slightly bent pedal steel stereotype; you can almost see the tumbling tumbleweeds. What comes across on Slider is more of a hybrid of blues, jazz, electronica and eastern music."
"The album is often quite mellow, with its broad and spacey soundscapes, it still comes across as a bold and ballsy statement. That an instrument can be used outside of its stereotyped genre is not new thinking but Kaphan puts the pedal steel guitar through such strenuous paces that it is often almost unrecognizable, sounding like everything from an Autoharp on 'Clouds' to a sitar in 'Country & Eastern.' "
"Kaphan plays it airy on "Big Brain Small Brain" and the epic length "Outpost" (clocking in a nearly eight and a half minutes), letting the breathy empty space between notes tell most of the story. "Back to the Light" successfully forces together some backward loops and eastern influences and "Homage (Pour la Grande Fromage)" -- one of my favorites partly because of the name -- leans toward a percussive, uptempo, soundtrack feel reflecting Kaphan's foray into film scoring."
"As lovely and amazing as this album is, what is equally remarkable is that this is a solo album. Kaphan plays all of the instruments with the exception of a fretless bass on the album's first track 'Clouds" and percussion on 'Homage (Pour la Grande Fromage).'"
"Occasionally light and breezy the album can slip past your ears if you don't take the effort to listen and I'm almost tempted to say that this is wonderful background music, but too many times music of this type is unfortunately relegated to the creation of mood and atmosphere. While Slider is very successful in this regard to just put it in the category of mood music would do it a disservice. Slider is a greatly textured and highly nuanced piece of work with depth. It deserves a close and attentive listen."
Reviewed by David Middleton
AMG EXPERT REVIEW, August, 2001:
"Bruce Kaphan pioneered a new sound for the pedal steel guitar in the ‘90s as a member of alt-rock outfit American Music Club and then Kaphan took that sound and made a name for himself as a solo artist by working with artists such as REM, Jewel, The Black Crowes, Love and Rockets, Chris Isaak, Red House Painters, Jellyfish and others. Some of the highlights of his career include recording with John Lee Hooker on his Grammy-nominated 'Jealous' and Grammy winning 'Chill Out' Kaphan also spent most of '97-'98 on the road playing with former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne. Since then he's focused primarily on film scoring, sound design, as well as producing albums for various bands and artists, and doing his first solo album, Slider. Slider, it can be said, has a sound unlike no other recording. First off Slider consists primarily of pedal steel guitar, a beautiful and often forgotten instrument that usually is lost in the ambience of a country recording rather than up in the front playing a lead melody. With Slider, Kaphan has crafted a masterful recording that truly takes the listener inside the multi-timbral and multi-dimensional sound that is the pedal steel guitar. Slider has a bit of raga sound in places with a pulsating tabla beating out a rhythm and in other places there’s the lush and beautiful sound of the pedal steel cascading through gentle and original melodies. Slider is a fantastic recording that wholly takes the pedal steel guitar from its usual idiom and sheds new light on its sound and possibilities."
-- Matt Borghi
Music Connection, July 2, 2001 "Top Cuts: 'Outpost,' 'Back To The Light,' 'Big Brain Small Brain'
"Summary: Subtitled 'Ambient Excursions For Pedal Steel Guitar,' this album comes from a studio musician who has seasoned the works of Chris Isaak, R.E.M., Black Crowes, David Byrne and others. On this solo CD, Kaphan's original compositions range from Harold Budd-like soundscapes ('Sideways Carousel') to luxurious cosmic cowboy themes ('High Desert') to a couple of gorgeous, sonically trippy tracks (such as 'Outpost') reminiscent of Brian Eno's better works. Quality stuff."
- Mark Nardone
From Recording Magazine July 2001. An interview with Bruce Kaphan.
"If you think the pedal steel guitar is a one-trick pony, drop Bruce Kaphan's ambient masterpiece Slider into your CD player and be prepared for a trip out of this world. Bruce explains his techniques and the long road from inspiration to finished product ..."
Interview by Lorenz Rychner <
From The Steel Guitar Forum (6/5/01):
"Modern music fans recognize Bruce Kaphan's name from his work with American Music Club, Chris Isaak, REM, Black Crowes, John Lee Hooker and David Byrne. It's a rare treat to get an instrumental album from such an accomplished sideman. This collection of instumental 'new age' music was recorded for the prestigious Hearts Of Space label, and its tone is consistent with the sound of their popular radio show. The tunes are dreamy, multi-layered steel tracks, dripping with echoes and punctuated with diamond edges. Bruce Kaphan combines his D-10, the recording studio, and a few tasty acoustic instruments to create beautiful ambient tapestries. This CD is on the leading edge of steel guitar art music. It's one of my personal favorites." (-b0b-)
From the British publication Leicester Bangs (published some time between 4/22/01 and 6/4/01):
"From the man who has played pedal steel with American Music Club, Chris Isaak, REM, Black Crowes, John Lee Hooker and David Byrne comes an album which, unsurprisingly, isn't a traditional country recording. Instead, Kaphan has recorded something of a first - an ambient pedal steel album which sets out to create a succession of moods and auras, rather than just a procession of frilly fills. Really it's just a natural progression from the material he's recorded with the people mentioned above, except it somehow transcends into something fresh and wonderfully original. Like a Ry Cooder soundtrack, Slider not only delivers on atmosphere but actually possesses the ability to put you there. Atmospheric ambient Americana - how's that for a genre?"
(8/10 Rob Forbes)
From AmbiEntrance ( 6/1/01):
"Hearts Of Space heads into the heart of a more earthbound space... wide open space, you could say... Bruce Kaphan's rather unique form of instrumentation twangs into previously unexplored territories as Slider manifests itself as "ambient excursions for pedal steel guitar". Rather more overtly 'musical' than some of our listening choices in these parts, but definitely beautiful, transportive stuff. Prettily ringing notes slur and, well... slide! through the long drifts of metallic-tinged 'Clouds'; distinctly countrified overtones merge with more freeform explorations as musical meanderings happen in the form of flexible golden rays. Like its name implies, country & eastern (heh heh) stirs up disparate styles with steely strands twining between pattering ethnobeats... like oil mixing with water, the sounds swirl around each other in entrancing patterns. Playing it straight, 'High Desert' blends sweeping chords into resonant highs and lows, while lanky leads tumble across the gently rolling terrain. Slightly darker moods nover in the gleaming beams which glimmer and twist through big brain small brain. Wavering distortion and rhythmic ripplings lead into Back to the light; ethnic drums are beaten and eastern-ish flairs are coaxed from Kaplan's guitar, as are sinuous western style curlicues. Very cool! Just a hint of faded carnivalia remains in the skewed, slurred-out passages of sideways carousel, backed by lazy bassnotes. A grumbling drone extends to the outpost (8:20), where mists rising from a valley floor, shimmering strings upwardly waft in this most amorphous track. Gravity defying notes slowly twirl to the skies in their arc of flight over lower tonal progressions. I don't know who the "big cheese" is, but homage (pour la grande fromage) (3:11) is a tribute of multilayered streams gently wavering over faint drums and bubbling bass. For those who like a hearty dose of western seasoning (as well as a pionch of eastern), Bruce Kaphan's 11 tracks will fill almost-an -hour with luxuriously rambling tunefulness. I'm throwing in a few extra percentage points for the sheer freshness of Slider's unique metallic flavors, entrancing elasticity and craftsmanship. An 8.8 for expressive wanderings through high lonesome territories and beyond. Visit Hearts of Space [www.hos.com] for further enlightenment."
(This review posted May 31, 2001. AmbiEntrance Copyright 2001-1997 by David J Opdyke)
From the San Francisco Bay Guardian, May 30, 2001:
"Bruce Kaphan came to prominence through his pedal steel and Dobro work with Mark Eitzel and American Music Club. Inspired by Jerry Garcia's pedal work, Kaphan developed his chops working the local C&W circuit. He did studio work and touring gigs with REM, Jewel, the Black Crowes. Love and Rockets, Chris Isaak, John Lee Hooker, David Byrne, Jellyfish, and the Red House Painters. A multi-instrumentalist - drums, bass, guitar, keyboards, viola, fiddle, mandolin - Kaphan has a unique approach to the pedal steel that's informed and tempered by traditional country and rock roots yet edges into another sonic domain. Slider is pitched as New Age via its Hearts of Space imprimatur and employs a few familiar flanged-out clichés for the yuppie bohos. But its true sizzle is as a challenge to steel players to move beyond clichés and voice other possibilities inherent in this most expressive and complicated of stringed instruments. Slider is an ambitious and groundbreaking effort combining the familiar sounds of Nashville studio-session steel with Kaphan's personal reconfigurations and langorous, soulful expressivity. A synthesis of this pliant, subtle instrument's past, present, and future, Slider is in a sense a manifesto, in which Kaphan attempts to expand and take advantage of the pedal steel's unexplored terrain. Comparisons, as some beatnik said, are odious, yet Kaphan's Slider is akin to Steel Guitar Jazz, by '60's wizard innovator and player Buddy Emmons. Kaphan produced and engineered this CD, and multitracked the Dobro, guitar, drum, and bass parts into a shimmering statement."
From Boston's Weekly Dig (Vol 3 ISS. 19 May 9- May 16, 2001):
"Bruce Kaphan of American Music Club has unveiled the ultimate pedal steel guitar album. This highly skilled multi-instrumentalist has, in addition to AMC, also appeared on albums by The Black Crowes, David Byrne, REM, John Lee Hooker and Chris Isaak, and has finally recorded a solo album demonstrating the flawless precision with which he coaxes haunting sounds and melancholy ephemera from his instrument, creating the kind of hazy ether found in wide open spaces and thin cloud covers. The album's eleven tracks ebb and flow evenly throughout, and one may not necessarily know when one track ends and the next begins, but that might be just the point. Slider is equally suitable for passive and active listening. Either way, Kaphan's nimble hands weave heavenly tapestries for barren landscapes, ghost towns and dusty trails."
An excerpt from "Boomers bolster a new boom, older rock fans demonstrate their purchasing power" (Brad Kava, San Jose Mercury News May 2, 2001):
"This Fremont artist, who has played with REM, John Lee Hooker, David Byrne and was a regular in the Saddlerack band for years, says: You can take the pedal steel guitar out of the country, but can you take the country out of the pedal steel? Apparently, yes. He pushes the seemingly limitless fretboard into new territory: new age, Indian, jazz, roots. This is the instrumental bedtime album of the year. Buy it if you like: Jerry Garcia, Kitaro, David Gilmour."
From Guitar Player (May 2001):
"What do REM, John Lee Hooker, David Byrne, Chris Isaak, and the Black Crowes have in common? They've all had the good taste to seek out pedal-steel maverick - and former American Music Club member - Bruce Kaphan. Kaphan was a 6-string guitarist before he was a steeler, and it shows every time he sets bar to string. He almost never plays anything approaching a country or western lick. He's more likely to brush slowly across the strings as if caressing a giant zither, aerate his arrangements with slow drones, or spin fleet single-note melodies. Slider doesn't capture Kaphan at his most confrontational - it's a leisurely, new agey suite characterized by cavernous reverbs, ethno drum loops, and soft, cascading delays. Yet Kaphan's unique voice slices through the gossamer each time he ventures an exotic melodic curlicue or touches down on a surprising harmony." (JG)
Excerpted from the official REM website, comments from Peter Buck (November 2000, pre-release):
"We wanted to highlight one record in particular from the list--Slider: Ambient Excursions for Pedal Steel Guitar--by Bruce Kaphan. According to Peter, this record is amazing ..."
Reviewed by Jim Brenholts, author of "Tracks Across the Universe: A Chronology of Ambient and Electronic Music"