It’s become cliché to say a particular guitarist is recognizable after just one note, but in the case of George Harrison, it’s true. Because along with his many hats and talents – singer, songwriter, guitarist, Beatle, icon – he was also a great, albeit underrated, slide guitarist with a truly unique sound and approach. Think of all of the slide players you’ve ever heard, and they pretty much fall into one camp or another – Elmore, Muddy, Duane, Ry, etc. Then there’s Harrison, who entered from a completely different direction, never fell into the stock licks others employed, and has rarely been copied (the Heartbreakers’ Mike Campbell comes to mind as one of the few who obviously owes a debt to George when he shifts over to slide).
Brainwashed was George’s work-in-progress at the time of his death in November ’01. His fellow Traveling Wilbury and producer of 1987’s Cloud Nine, Jeff Lynne, and Harrison’s son, Dhani, put the finishing touches on what George had started, and while it’s impossible to say with certainty, the results don’t sound drastically different than they probably would have been if George had been around for the final mix. Dhani plays acoustic or electric guitar or Wurlitzer electric piano on most cuts, with Jeff supplying bass, keyboards, and additional guitars. (No drummer is credited on “Looking For My Life,” so unless it’s a machine, it’s probably Jim Keltner, who’s behind the traps for most of the rest of the set.)
Harrison’s slide sounds a tad grittier, more aggressive on the opening “Any Road” and “P2 Vatican Blues,” but on tracks like “Rising Sun” (with some Beatle-esque cellos – also uncredited), his patented slide sound is, as Duane Eddy once described it, “just sweetness.” On several tunes, George also strums ukulele, including a great rendition of the swing-era standard “Between The Devil and The Deep Blue Sea.” Swing music was always near and dear to Harrison’s heart, and where he learned his chord vocabulary when he had his first guitar lessons. He later had Djangophile groups like the Robin Nolan Trio play parties at his mansion. So it seems fitting to have this upbeat number, with George obviously enjoying himself, on his final album.
It’s startling to realize that this is the only solo studio album by the ex-Beatle since Cloud Nine – making this posthumous gift a most pleasant surprise.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Mar. ’03 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.