The art of playing the guitar is quite often taken for granted in the modern era of music. The instrument itself has almost become more of an accessory in the industry than an actual key ingredient in the songwriting. But there is actually a whole world of people out there, who have dedicated themselves to the wooden six-string and its limitless possibilities. From Jimi Hendrix to Joe Satriani, guitarists have proven to be formidable forces in expanding the sonic opportunities of the musical landscapes. Among some of the most underrated artists we find Buckethead, a virtuoso guitarist from southern California. Over the years, this extremely skilled man has produced an impressive 180 studio albums, spanning genres such as blues, jazz fusion, experimental rock, ambient, bluegrass, funk, metal etc. Here is a list of his 5 essential collections. Records for those who don’t know where all the good stuff is. The best fruits in the basket, if you will.
5. Crime Slunk Scene (2006)
Arguably one of Buckethead’s most widely recognised releases, this funk-driven disc features many of the guitarists classic trademarks, from the heavily distorted guitar tones and electric slides, to the avant-garde instrumentation and synthetic drumbeats. The album is perhaps best known for the 9 minute long rock epic “Soothsayer”, which is by far the most mellow and melodic track on “Crime Slunk Scene”. Beyond that, the album is filled to the brim with funk-metal face-melters such as “Buddy Berkman’s Ballad”, the Halloween-flavoured “Mad Monster Party”, and the Lebron James tribute “King James”. It may not be the most artistically innovative project from the maestro, but for some of the heavier material in the guy’s catalogue, it doesn’t get much better than this. If the coffee’s not dark enough for you, try 2005’s “Enter the Chicken”.
4. Electric Sea (2012)
The most recent album on the list. Some may wonder why I didn’t choose “Electric Tears”, the record to which this is a sequel. I didn’t do so simply because I think this one is better. The sound is considerably brighter, the instrumentation a little less melancholic, and the stylistic diversity is far bigger. Everything from flamenco (“Beyond the Knowing”) and classic baroque (“Yokohama”) to western-inspired surf rock (“El Indio”) is thrown into the mix on this incredibly versatile LP that cements Buckethead’s legacy firmly in the ground of the contemporary musical landscape. No offense to “Electric Tears”, but this one is just brilliant.
3. Colma (1998)
“Colma” was written for Buckethead’s mom, with the intend of providing her with music that would help her through the struggle of battling colon cancer. There is a lot of love on this album, and you clearly feel that throughout the 13 compositions, most of which are dictated by the acoustic guitar, accompanied by subtle drumbeats. Melancholy is an essential part of the experience here, but hopefulness keeps finding its way into tracks like the haunting “For Mom”, the joyful folk-ballad “Hills of Eternity”, or the baroque-influenced “Wonder”. Buckethead is best when he tones it down, and this album is a prime example that less is more.
2. Acoustic Shards (2007)
Originally recorded in 1991, the all-acoustic compilation of old demos is a remarkably personal and graceful addition to Buckethead’s discography, drawing inspiration from classic baroque counterpoint music, while also mixing in country twang, folk sensibilities, and funk-laced rhythm patterns. Most of the tracks were all improvised on the spot – a rather mind-boggling thought, considering how sophisticated and complex they appear to be. There is nothing derivative about this record. It all feels organic and authentic, almost as if the man’s heart went straight into his guitar and created the most soulful songs you could possibly imagine. There is so much to enjoy about the roughness of tunes like “For Mom”, “Little Gracie”, “Stay Out of the Shed”, and the crown jewel “Who Me?”. “Acoustic Shards” is not really wholesome at all. But it feels real and genuine, and that makes for one of the most beautiful, elegant and tactful recordings Big B has ever crafted.
1. Population Override (2004)
Clocking in at number #1 is 2004’s “Population Override”, a collaboration between Buckethead and keyboardist Travis Dickerson. It’s a concept album rooted in the second law of thermodynamics, which describes how endless growth is unsustainable, just like the current overpopulation of our planet. This is quite possibly the most wholesome and tightly assembled project that the guitarist has ever produced. It was recorded directly on tape, and is the result of hours of improvisational jams between Dickerson and Buckethead, who would let their creative juices flow freely, and then pick out the sections that best represented the themes of the album. The duo vigorously plays around in a space somewhere between jazz fusion, experimental blues, and progressive rock, and it works all the way down to the tiniest detail. The music is alive. It’s breathing. It’s an experience unlike anything else in the tall guitar god’s repertoire, and the more you listen to it, the more you appreciate it. The kind of thing that was meant for vinyl.
Agree with our list? If not, what are some of YOUR essential Buckethead albums? Participate in the comment-section down below.
Mathias Folsted Film/Music/TV critic, columnist, and news-writer
An aspiring filmmaker, film critic and YouTuber. Previous experience include extensive work for the largest danish film site, www.filmz.dk, where I served as junior editor, film critic, columnist, and news writer. Also a graduate from the European Film College, I've been a lover of motion pictures for as long as I can remember. My criticism is always honest, but above all emotional.