Written by Austin Kaus

The songs on local musician Jesse Christen’s new album were, according to the artist himself, his “best shot at reaching a higher state of consciousness.” That may read pretentious. The effort is certainly not.

Gate of Charity is a collection of almost-completely instrumental tracks that came from the “spontaneous jams (and) dreams and visions” of Christen, bassist Tom McGovern, and percussionist Carl Holloman. Produced and recorded in Sioux Falls, the album is far more cohesive than one might gather from the description printed on the back of the cd sleeve. It’s not much jam band and a whole lot of groove-centered rock and roll.

Older fans of the local music scene will likely recognize Christen as a member of The Sneakies, a Pomp Room favorite whose sound was a sort of melodic and snotty bar punk. (You can find the group’s entire discography at http://tinyurl.com/sneakies.) There’s not much Sneakies to this work, but it’s not the 1990s anymore. People age. Tastes change. Sounds mature.

All these truths apply to Gate of Charity. It is indeed an opening into the mind of Jesse Christen, a guitarist that seems legitimately interested in pursuing unexplored regions of a time-tested genre. Part rock, part blues, and part dreamstate, these songs won’t take you too far away from home, but might provide you with an alternate perspective into the world of Jesse Christen where smoke is seen through sunglasses and guitar hooks and riffs are never too far out of reach.

I’ve stated before that my attention span was not made for instrumental rock but, once again, I am forced to admit there are exceptions to the rule. Christen is successful at shifting the sound of this album’s songs enough to maintain interest ( at least through the early listens). I doubt this will be on repeat in my own world, but I’m glad it’s around.

There may be imbalance between electric and acoustic guitar sounds, something I might not have thought of had the end of “Craizee Eyes” not broken into an acoustic jam after a few seconds of silence. However, it’s not a major complaint. Given Christen’s mission statement, transferring something to a different instrument would likely be antithetical to the entire album concept. Still, less electricity might have led me to have a stronger connection to the record.

No matter. Christen appears to have accomplished what he set out to do: Create a truthful record that gets feet tapping, heads bobbing, and air guitar picks imagined. I long for the pluck of acoustic strings, but only because the end of the record reminded me that I hadn’t really heard it yet. That’s a testament to the honesty of Christen and the successful execution of one man’s six-string vision. Your decision on the record is your own, but fans of Jimi Hendrix, Steve Vai (see “No Escape”), and other rock deities will find it difficult to ignore the infectious journey that is Gate of Charity.

The album is available at Ernie November in Sioux Falls,  Vibe Studios in Harrisburg, or the record release show on Oct. 12 at The Phoenix Lounge in Harrisburg.

Four stars

Favorite tracks: “In Your Head,” “Inner Whirl,” “Craizee Eyes”

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