“…enormous and versatile instrumental virtuosity”…”the brilliant album Conundrum.”
Album: MICHAEL SCHATTE – CONUNDRUM
Artist: Michael Schatte
Record Label: Independent
Style: Rock, blues, celtic, roots
Reviewed by: Walter Vanheuckelom
Concert Monkey, The Netherlands
Michael Schatte has become one of the most immersive guitarists and singer/songwriters in the North American roots music scene. His sound spans a number of styles such as rock, blues, celtic, bluegrass, rockabilly and Eclectic Electric Roots. Most recently he was a finalist at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, TN, where he performed at the historic Orpheum Tennessee Theater. Michael was only fifteen years old when he released his first album in 1999 with the trio Midnight Mojo. In 2006 Schatte released the album ‘Hard Ticket’. The unique mix of genres came into its own in 2015 in ‘Turn Back the Vikings’, Michael Schatte’s fourth solo album. On November 6, 2020, his fifth solo album ‘Conundrum’ was released, containing fifteen songs, fourteen of which were written by Michael Schatte. ‘Bread, Water, Love’ he co-wrote John B. Lee. ‘Good King Richard’ is a medley of traditional songs and one original composition by Richard Thompson.
The album opens with the smooth and very attractive rocker ‘Water In the Kettle’. The strong and catchy chorus gives the song even more cachet. We get Celtic influences in the first instrumental part through the very handsome fiddle work of Michael Schatte. In the second instrumental piece, this multi-instrumentalist shines with fiery guitar work. You can certainly call Michael a multi-instrumentalist, because on this album he also plays on the bass, mandolin, violin, percussion, organ, tenor banjo, Rhodes piano, Wurlitzer piano, Hammered Dulcimer and the accordion. The wonderful saxophone sounds come from Carson Freeman and with her beautiful voice Sascha Visagie sings the chorus together with Michael. The rhythm slows down in ‘Dry Black Powder’ for the story of a sweet but dangerous lady, who is not afraid of using a bomb. Here Michael takes care of almost all instruments. He plays the bass guitar, the mandolin and the guitar. Only Chad Davis accompanies him from behind his drum kit. With a spicy solo Michael shows once again that he is a very gifted guitarist. His excellent strings during the love song ‘Genevieve’ brings back memories of Mark Knopfler’s fantastic guitar work during ‘Sultans Of Swing’, the first worldwide hit by Dire Straits. Michael has a thing for difficult love relationships and love rivals. That was the case with ‘Genevieve’ and also in ‘Daria,’ where Michael tries to change the girl’s thoughts. He almost begs her to choose him. ‘Daria’ is, just like its predecessor ‘Genevieve’, a radio-friendly pop / rock song with great guitar work.
Drummer Riley O’Connor provides an exhilarating galloping drum beat in ‘Silly Old Man’. Ryan Spratt provides an excellent pulsating bass line on the thick strings of his bass guitar. Michael Schatte has an excellent guitar presence throughout the song. He plays lavishly with strong and spicy riffs and the string solo in the outro is a feast for the ear. Moreover, Michael has a very good and attractive voice and knows how to deliver his songs with passion and conviction. Please Don’t Dance With My Brother is an attractive Chicago blues shuffle about the rivalry between two brothers. After that, the tempo goes up for the scorching boogie rocker ‘Longtime Lover’, in which Michael again takes care of all the instruments except for the drums. He even lets us enjoy a solo on the Rhodes piano. According to Schatte, the title track ‘Conundrum’ is about existential whimsy, with lyrics that explore the mysteries of life. Thanks to the clever percussion of drummer Riley O’Connor and the hammer beating of Michael on his Hammered Dulcimer it has a wonderful African rhythm. That African rhythm forms a beautiful contrast with the Eastern-tinged guitar sounds. Besides the lead vocals, Michael himself provides the beautiful backing vocals. “Bread, Water, Love” is a poem by Canadian poet John B. Lee. Schatte wrote music for it. Lee himself reads his poem in a melodic (recitation) way. With fantastic fingerwork, Schatte weaves his beautiful acoustic guitar sounds through the words of the poet. Just like in the previous song, Michael plays the Hammered Dulcimer here.
Then all registers are pulled open for the scorching boogie blues rocker ‘Come On Down’. Drummer Chad Davis and bassist Michael Schatte provide a blistering and punching groove. The swirling organ sounds that are present throughout the song and the dazzling guitar work also come from multi instrumentalist Michael Schatte. The Celtic influences are clearly audible in the energetic and radio-friendly ‘The Candy Aisle’. The Upper Hand is about unequal love. Schatte once again shows his abilities on the guitar. This time he impresses with a great solo, which shows similarities with the guitar work of the great Jimi Hendrix in his best period. Saxophonist Carson Freeman also makes a significant contribution, with a mighty sax solo. Michael Schatte sings with a lot of feeling ‘In The Cold Hard Here And Now’, one of the rare ballads on this album. The album ends with the instrumental ‘Good King Richard’, a compilation of three Celtic traditionals (‘The Poppy Leaf Hornpipe’, ‘Kerry Reel’ and ‘Rakish Paddy’) and the Richard Thompson song ‘The Knife Edge’. Again, there is enough time and opportunity for Michael Schatte to showcase his enormous and versatile instrumental virtuosity. He plays the guitar, the violin, the mandolin, the accordion, the tenor banjo and the percussion. Only the rhythm section, with drummer Riley O’Connor and bassist Ryan Spratt, supports this great multi-instrumentalist. ‘Good King Richard’ is a beautiful ending to a very good album. The name Michael Schatte will ring a bell with few people. Hopefully that will change after the brilliant album ‘Conundrum’. I can recommend ‘Conundrum’ to everyone. (8.5 / 10)
Translated from the original Dutch.
01. Water In The Kettle
02. Dry Black Powder
05. Silly Old Man
06. Please Don’t Dance With My Brother
07. Longtime Lover
09. Bread, Water, Love
10. Come On Down
11. The Candy Aisle
12. The Upper Hand
13. A Mind A Mess
14. In The Cold Hard Here And Now
15. Good King Richard
Michael Schatte: Vocals, Guitars, Violin on # 1 and 15, Percussion on # 1,3,5,7,8,9,11,12,13 and 15, Handclaps on # 1,6,7,8 and 10, Mandolin on # 2,9,11,14 and 15, Bass on # 2,4,5,7,8,9,10,11 and 13, Organ on # 4,7,8,9,10 and 14, Accordion on # 5 and 15, Rhodes piano on # 7, Hammered Dulcimer on # 8 and 9, Tenor banjo on # 15, Tin Whisle on # 9, Wurlitzer piano on # 12 and 13
Ryan Spratt: Bass on # 1,3,5,6,12,14 and 15
Riley O’Connor: Drums on # 1,3,5,6,7,8,11,12,14 & 15
Chat Davis: Drums on # 2,10,13,
Sascha Visagie: Backing Vocals on # 1 and 9
Randy Cassidy: Backing vocals on # 5 and 11,
Carson Freeman: Saxophone on # 1,6 and 12
John B. Lee: poem recitation on # 9