Saddled with overdramatized arrangements and rhythm tracks mismatched to their melodic leads, Brian Tarquin doesn't get much of a chance to properly showcase his range of guitar skills on High Life (Instinct INS5591-2; 63:00). For example, Tarquin's strutting, clean-toned licks work well with the title track's memorable melody but they are eclipsed by the overbaked, needlessly shaking arrangement. His fuzzy rock tone cuts through the programming on "Spartacus," but shouldn't have to work so hard for the spotlight. His long-lined, soulful play emotes nicely on "Deep Blue Sea," but the rattling rhythm track is a mismatch.
Some of the tunes here sound deliberately calculated to be commercial-like the discofied "Heaven & Earth" and clunky R&B bedroom vibe "Messiah"-and not necessarily as great vehicles for Tarquin. Others just miss the mark by a bit-for example, the squishy f/x and ringy-dingy keyboards on "Wine and Roses" sap the soul from a nifty Wild West-threaded melody. Bright spots to grow on include "Celtic Tales," which rides nicely on Tarquin's jazzy, economical phrasings, and "Razor's Edge," which pits Tarquin's fuzzed up rock play against pulsing electronica for a purposeful neomodernist feel.