Roth’s “Hot Licks” instructional series has helped many a player. But he’s criminally overlooked to the general public. Toolin’ Around puts him in the limelight with wonderful songs that exhibit his mastery.
Most of the songs are familiar and his guests are as tasteful as his playing. Levon Helm, fresh from his recovery from throat cancer, sings soulfully on cuts like “Sweet Little Sixteen” and “Cryin’ Time.” He also drums on more than half of the cuts. Twangbanger Bill Kirchen joins in on a picture-perfect version of the Joe South classic “Games People Play,” and the very twangy country-rock of “Gas Station Frustration.” The dueling slide guitars of “Tumblin'” pair Arlen with Sonny Landreth in an orgy of smolderingly quiet slide and fiery riffs.
While most of the cuts feature vocals from Helm, Roth, Roth’s daughter, Lexie, or Levon’s daughter, Amy, a couple of instrumentals allow Arlen to cut loose. Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man” gets the full treatment, with Arlen displaying his vast arsenal of chops. And just when you thought another version of “Sleepwalk” had reached the point of saturation, Roth’s slightly country feel gives it a breath of fresh air.
A bonus DVD lets you in on the making of the record, with behind the scenes rehearsal footage; watching the fellas listen to a playback of “Matchbox” proves they enjoyed it as much as you will.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Apr. ’07 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.