I’m always wary when a guitarist releases a solo album. Sometimes, the album can be a diverse and genuinely interesting foray into various genres or sounds. Other times, it can be a noodle fest where the guitarist gives into pretention. Dave Cureton released a solo album earlier this year, and I’m finding it to be one of the former. The album is called State of Mind, and it released in April.
You may know Dave from his main gig, IO Earth. I’ve been a fan of IO Earth since their debut back in 2009, so you could say that I’ve heard plenty of what he has to offer. However, I think this album displays Dave in a different way than what I’ve heard. Dave handles guitars, vocals, keys, and programming here, and he brings with him Marco Minnemann on drums, William Kopecky on bass, Adam Gough on keys and orchestrations, Steve Trigg on trumpet, and Luke Shingler on saxophone.
Dave, for me, has always been known as a master of many styles. IO Earth has always been about creating new sounds from a wide variety of genres, and so this solo album has been a bit of a jolt for me. State of Mind is Dave firing on all cylinders in the progressive rock genre, and I would say that some songs border on progressive metal, as well. Some of the tracks here are truly heavy and complex, though I still hear hints of the melody and storytelling vibes that Dave uses so much in his IO Earth work.
You may have guessed that this album is a technical wonder. Why else bring on Marco on drums? This album roars and rages with ferocious guitar work, thundering drums, and voluptuous bass. Not lost in all of this, Adam’s keys add a much needed layer of ambience and peace. I like, too, the segments with trumpet and saxophone, as they add some jazz and blues to the experience. I also like the vocals on this record; for sure, this is an instrumental album first and foremost, but hearing Dave and an unnamed female vocalist speaking or singing in the background adds yet another layer.
As complex as this album is, I feel that it still has heart. Some songs, like “Killer Fusion”, display Dave’s flair for the dramatic and for intensely complicated compositions that are more about the jam than about the message. Other songs, like “Sound of the Sun”, are the opposite; this track has a Middle Eastern vibe in its backing vocals that feels forlorn and Dune-esque, and while there are heavy moments to be found, the song overall feels cinematic and abstract. Dave has produced an album that touches both ends of this spectrum.
Overall, my favorite tracks are “Puppet’s Dream”, “Sound of the Sun”, “The Secret Lullaby”, and “Evolution”. While I can certainly appreciate the more technique oriented tracks, I find myself, as usual, attracted to the songs with more personality and character. “Puppet’s Dream” is a good example of this, and you can even see it in the evocative music video. While it is still a complex beast, there is more restraint and space here, and I love how it feels like the guitars are burgeoning below the surface, just waiting to be unleashed. The keys add a beautiful backdrop, too.
I discussed “Sound of the Sun” already, and it might be my favorite on the album. Right on its heels, though, is the beautiful “The Secret Lullaby”; this track is incredibly tender and emotional. Dave emotes and muses his way through the piece with precision and also release. While there is plenty of rock in its veins, the song is somehow also serene and peaceful.
“Evolution” is the closer, and it honestly feels like a classic rock track at times. Searing mellotron and razor sharp guitars lead the way, but the track has more under its hood than just showmanship. I love how transitory it feels, and how Dave’s guitars at certain points almost feel like dialogue. It is an expressive track with something of a chorus that really rocks; and Dave certainly shreds all over the place near the end, but it serves the track rather than becoming the focus.
I think that is a good description of this album. Dave Cureton has created a record with some truly intense musicianship from all parties involved, but it always serves the art form instead of just becoming a jam album. State of Mind has moments of darkness and light, and sensitivity and command; and so it ends up feeling rather diverse and stimulating to me, just like Dave’s work in IO Earth. If you like his style and want to hear it turned way up, this album is definitely for you.
Find Dave Cureton online: