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Pop Music Review : Jon Butcher Starts To Hit His Stride

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 career, it was easy to overlook Butcher and even easier to dismiss him. The black rock guitarist projected an image of a would-be successor to Jimi Hendrix's throne. His music then tended toward unexceptional hard rock, and opening slots on tours by metal squads Def Leppard and Scorpions completed the impression that Butcher was just another head-banging hack with a Hendrix complex.

That impression started to unravel last year when he received a Grammy nomination for best rock instrumental. Then, earlier 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 after Butcher had dispensed with the stale, dreadful older songs. With his sharp, tasteful trio providing spicy support, the guitarist's soulful crooning and lyrical fretwork turned the new "Goodbye Saving Grace" into an exquisite tour de force. That song, the title track from "Wishes" and other new material Sunday demonstrated that in the right hands, elegant rock needn't be a contradiction.

Butcher also plays the Palace on Thursday.

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