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Pop Review : Guitarist's New Work 'Exquisite'

July 14, 1987|DUNCAN STRAUSS

Don't be surprised if Jon Butcher becomes a star. It may not happen soon, and it may not happen at all. But the Alaska-born singer-guitarist is enormously gifted, and he's starting to hit his stride, judging by his latest album, "Wishes," and his show Sunday at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano.

Early in his recording career, it was easy to overlook Butcher and even easier to dismiss him. The black rock guitarist projected (or, one suspects, was projected into ) the image of would-be successor to Jimi Hendrix. His music then tended toward unexceptional hard rock, and his opening slots for tours by metal squads Def Leppard and Scorpions completed the impression that Butcher was just another head-banging hack with a Hendrix complex.

But that impression started to unravel last year when he received a Grammy nomination for best rock instrumental. (Jeff Beck won the award, which is fitting because he's obviously been one of the major influences on Butcher.)

Then early this year came "Wishes," a stylish, varied work bursting with solid songwriting and inventive, fluid guitar playing.

Not surprisingly, the "Wishes" material provided the high points Sunday--and blew across the stage like a blast of fresh air. With his sharp, tasteful trio building spicy support, the guitarist's soulful crooning and lyrical fret work turned the new "Goodbye Saving Grace" into an exquisite \o7 tour de force\f7 .

That song, the title track from "Wishes" and other new material Sunday demonstrated that in the right hands \o7 elegant\f7 rock needn't be a contradiction--or a boring walk over the Windham Hill. Of course, guitar heroes aren't exactly in great demand these days, outside of heavy metal circles. But there's certainly a place in rock for Jon Butcher, and he's likely to find it. He plays the Palace on Thursday.

Butcher was preceded by the Prime Movers, who continue to show the downside of what a little personnel changing can do. Specializing in moody, pulsing rock, the Los Angeles trio has foundered, at least on stage, since dismissing frontman-singer Greg Markel last year.

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