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Barenaked Lady

BarenakedladyNew West Guitar Trio proves that less is more.

Everybody’s familiar with that common affliction that plagues many bands. You know, the inherent case of the LGES, otherwise known as Lead Guitarist Ego Syndrome, which can breed head-to-head vying for the spotlight between singer and ripping soloist; that Catch-22 that can ultimately make and then break a band.

It’s a tough life being so good, and sometimes the Keith Richards of the crew needs to step back rather than overindulge in all the ingenuity. For Los Angeles’ New West Guitar Trio, however, it’s all about three lead guitarists shredding side-by-side in peace.

“There’s billions of guitar players out there, but how many guitar ensembles—not many,” says John Storie, before adding with a laugh, “And now I know why.” Storie admits that “it’s really difficult and we’re still figuring out what works and what doesn’t,” referencing his bandmates, Perry Smith and Brady Cohan, who together complete the young ensemble that intricately punctuates a jazz foundation with folk, rock and blues elements. Whether it’s marrying three egos or three of the same mid-range instrument, finding a balanced yet dynamic sound is no easy task—and New West beats the odds.

As a quartet on the band’s first two releases, 2005’s Introducing and 2007’s Wide Awake, New West stepped out with high octane textures combining their usual electric and acoustic guitars. On the outfit’s latest album, Sleeping Lady, they take things down a notch—as a trio wholly unplugged. This time, it’s all about acoustic strings fashioned by Santa Cruz luthier Jeff Traugott, and this week’s show at the Kuumbwa on Saturday, July 18, is a rare gig that will remain faithful to the record and keep the electrics in their cases. 

“He’s as much a part of this group as we are,” Storie says of  Traugott, who produced Sleeping Lady, built all the guitars used on the album recorded in Marin, and is best known as the go-to guitar maker for eight-string phenom Charlie Hunter. “These are no ordinary Guitar Center guitars. There’s something about the acoustics by Jeff that have so much life to them, whether we’re strumming or finger picking.”

Whereas in years past it’s always been about packing a punch with the electric screaming atop all the layers, the three twentysomething-year-olds known to swap guitars onstage just as much as songwriting duties offstage, had to find a new approach without the benefits of the old electric. “We had to figure out how to keep the excitement and the kick that we’ve always had, throughout this record with only acoustic guitars,” Storie recalls. The result? Some high energy blues helmed by Cohan, staple jazz melody panache from Smith, and fluid finger picking from Storie. Plus, there’s more room for vocals, which has got Storie exploring some folk singer-songwriter ambitions on the current tour.

Moreover, the all-acoustic performance will showcase the band in a “new” light—with a penchant for chamber music rising to the surface. Tighter and more intimate, the trio’s set will include Storie’s rendition of orchestral favorite, Manuel Ponce’s “Estrellita,” and though the lack of nylon strings keeps them from truly entering Romeros territory, he and his cohorts prove that they can just as proficiently satisfy a classical enthusiast as their usual jazz audience.

All in all, New West Guitar Trio hits town revealing more than ever before. No electrics—and no egos—in sight.


New West Guitar Trio performs at 8 p.m. Saturday, July 18, at Kuumbwa Jazz, 320-2 Cedar St., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $18. For more information, call 426-2313. To learn more about Jeff Traugott, go to traugottguitars.com .

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