In this age of digital consumption and streaming, it feels more and more like brilliant CD packaging concepts are a dying art form – which makes the imagery on veteran guitarist Lou Volpe’s adventurously arranged, crisply played and eminently soulful, bluesy and swinging (and sometimes, as on the funked-up “A to Z,” truly rocking!) new album Before & After a true revelation.
The cover shows a smiling Volpe playing his axe next to an old sepia-toned photo of him as a little boy playing a small acoustic. The inner packaging features more contrasts of Volpe in action today, next to his coming of age self. And finally the grainy back cover photo shows that same joy of him playing as a young adult.
The insights and connections are sweetly inspiring and haunting, and beg many whimsical questions. One wonders if those earlier iterations of Volpe could have imagined touring with Bette Midler, Judy Collins and Herbie Mann, and strutting his stuff behind icons from a multitude of genres like Chaka Khan, Lionel Hampton, Peggy Lee, Bo Diddley and Chet Baker.
Those varied roads lead him now to this alternately crackling and sensitive collection ensembling beautifully with drummer Buddy Williams and bassists Stanley Banks, Pete Falbo and Motoki Mihara. Launching with the whimsical, rhythmically varied “Up the Road” and including a sensual, simmering jaunt to Brazil along the way (“Perseguidor De Suernos”), Before & After showcase the many facets of Volpe’s artistry as a composer and performer while also paying homage to the Great American Songbook via a snappy re-imagining of “Stella By Starlight” and a mystical, contemplative spin through “Summertime.”