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Ava Mendoza with Nick Tamburro - Quit Your Unnatural Ways

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Artist: Ava Mendoza with Nick Tamburro

Album: Quit Your Unnatural Ways

Label: Weird Forest

Review date: Sep. 14, 2012

It’s fitting that Nels Cline wrote the liner notes for Ava Mendoza’s debut, Shadow Stories, in 2010. Cline was a teacher, of sorts, to Mendoza, and he’s one of the most obvious antecedents for the brand of genre-jumping guitar that she displays on Quit Your Unnatural Ways, a collaboration with drummer Nick Tamburro. While more than two-thirds of Shadow Stories‘ tracks consisted of covers, Quit Your Unnatural Ways is all Mendoza originals but one, a showcase of why her appeal bridges the gap between Guitar World and Tiny Mix Tapes.

One thing that’s clear across the whole of Quit Your Unnatural Ways is that Mendoza’s got chops. Beneath all of the weird effects and improvisational benders, there’s a solid bedrock of technical skill. One can always hear the traditional skeleton on which the compositions are built, usually some mutated combination of jazz, blues and rock that’s redolent of guitar playing with a capital G. Stripped to their core, the songs can feel like the compensatory exercises of a guitar competition, showcases that, like the jaunty title track or the crunchily folky “Shadowtrapping,” aren’t the most striking of tunes. Luckily, Mendoza’s not an entirely earthbound player, and as she lets her freak flag fly, there’s more to like. “First Time Shapeshifter” would chug along rather unremarkably were it not for Mendoza’s incendiary, mind-melting leads, and something similar can be said for most of its mates. “Second Shapeshift” and its unexpected salvo of metal roughage is a positively unexpected finale, and it’s also a far more interesting track when it veers away from the chunky riff with which it begins.

Nick Tamburro shares the marquee with Mendoza, but make no mistake, it’s her six strings that get most of the spotlight. Tamburro is sometimes the obedient timekeeper over which Mendoza spins her webs, sometimes an equal in exploration who simply gets buried in the mix. “Fake Funeral Song,” which might be the best track on the album, is Tamburro’s time to shine, as Mendoza’s more understated playing gives Tamburro plenty of room to be the busy one, if only for a few minutes.

Guitar geeks who want a dose of the weird stuff will find plenty to lap up across this album’s 36 minutes. Quit Your Unnatural Ways might be less of an attraction to a more general audience, though. While not overly showy, the album tends toward showcasing Mendoza’s playing more than the music as a whole, meaning that for all the wizardry she displays the results aren’t always all that enchanting.

By Adam Strohm

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