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Misty Mountain Stomp 

Citay, and the unspeakable joy of harmonized lead guitars

Wednesday, Feb 22 2006
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“I think the first Boston album is a beautiful thing, and I have no qualms about loving that record, and fully embracing its influence.” Words from the wise, version Generation Z.

Ezra Feinberg is talking about the odd jumble of fond musical memories he drew upon while creating the triumphant rock & roll project he calls Citay, which just released an eponymous album on Important. A rapturously ’70s-reverential new music, Citay takes inspiration from an era when rock’s ambition toward the large-scale and epic was regarded as a good and righteous thing, and not to be summarily pooh-poohed. Feinberg also loved those foggy acoustic intervals on Led Zep’s records, and the even moldier moments on early Sabbath’s discs, when someone’s poking ’round the belladonna in the woods outside the church.

Lured toward the artful power of these early hard-rock bands, ex–Piano Magic man Feinberg set about exploring the creation of entirely new genres from them — or, better, a sound beyond genre. This San Francisco–based post-minimalist loads the wandering mazes of his Citay with heaping helpings of mandolin, glockenspiel, sitar, numerous odd percussive thingies, organ, choral effects and, of course, legions of 12-string, all the better with which to dig deep damp rabbit holes among the ferns.

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But watch out as Feinberg lashes the murky morn with sunshiny West Coast rock vocal harmonies and super-stereo twin-lead guitar whirlwinds you haven’t heard the likes of since Queen, Thin Lizzy — or the late, great Wishbone Ash! That’s because Feinberg grew up with and played all this stuff, punk rock and jazz included, and never felt any qualms about violating sacred genre boundaries — much like the critically unfettered bands of his youth, with their suites and symphonies and rock-as-epic-journey attitude. “I like the element of myth,” he says, and — crucially — he recognized that the music that sojourned there had to carry the myth, and not vice versa.

Thus the emphasis on Citay is in a kind of sonic storytelling. “It’s not just imagery. I think with Heart and Led Zeppelin and Mike Oldfield and other things, it’s really composed — there is a rigor and attempt at epicness in the composition. I love dramatic music; I like music that feels like it’s really moving somewhere and you want to follow it and see where it takes you.”

Sometimes less is more, but quite often more is even more. Feinberg operates on that assumption as he toys with his copious combos of polarized styles and instrumental flavors, and in birthing an all-star jam between John Fahey, Black Sabbath and Boston, he’s also done the ultimate: made this incredibly interesting thing that sounds like none of the above, but is as darkly weighty as it is gleefully in love with pure classic pop. The question isn’t “What in hell was he thinking?”; it’s “Why didn’t anyone think of this before?”

“Hard rock — heavy rock — doesn’t require huge crumbling power chords and pounding drums,” he says. “I mean, I have nothing against that, but I felt like the first couple Heart albums — and especially Mike Oldfield and early Robert Wyatt — it has a gravitas to it that didn’t require, like, actual bombast.”

And the connections Feinberg makes between these apparently disparate artists aren’t as thin as they might seem.

“I’ve always related to [avant-folk acoustic-guitar player] John Fahey, via acoustic Jimmy Page — he was really into John Fahey, too. I’ve always been into composition that was really ambitious, with several instruments layered or double-tracked. [Producer] Tim Green [who also produced Pearls & Brass, below] and I just thought, wow, let’s do that, but in a good way, by layering strings and voices on top of acoustic guitars and mandolin and organs and electric piano and all that kind of stuff.”

While Fahey was pretty much the opposite on his recordings — deriving a massive sound from a single instrument — Feinberg admires his aspirations to formal grandeur. “John Fahey’s sound is really complete, with one guitar. I try to play like him, and I come up with something basic, then start to imagine a thousand other instruments on top of it.”

Citay’s way of manipulating musical memories goes a bit beyond the mere “guilty pleasure” aspects it might confer, suggesting untrodden new paths for trend-restricted rock players to come.

“Prog and ’70s proto-metal and late-’60s acid rock were deemed out of bounds for a long time because of punk,” says Feinberg, “and the idea that there should be these divisions and genres and categories and subdivisions of history has been toppled over. I think that’s really positive.”

Reach the writer at jpayne@bluefat.com

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