If you want an indicator of Mario Zelaya's acumen, cut in the sophomore track, Cabrillo Beach, where he nimbly speeds through a variety of change-ups with a dexterity that would befit David Wilcox (the American, not the Canadian) or Kenny Rankin. Zelaya's a fine guitarist, no doubt whatsoever, but is, I'll say it up front, hobbled by a singing voice that doesn't bounce well against his mastery of the strings -- merely singing rather than singing. He's a tenor but a flat tenor—were he to make the same choices in his vocal lines as he did in the instrumentality of, say, Stella Maris, which is brimming over with cleverness, then the guy would be on-stage at a club in Hollywood.
Off for Colors dips into samba and, in the title song, Zelaya tracks himself with a mellow electric atop acoustic, commencing sans vocals, and that's where he should have stayed, in a superb exposition too soon marred. In fact, an instrumental CD is what's needed and wanted…unless the guy can locate a true vocal artist to render a proper complement to his marvelous axe. Even the blues cut, Wolves, doesn't quite come off, though it's more sympathetic, Bromberg-ish (David, not Brian). On the other hand, the song illustrates another lack: too few good lead lines throughout. Someone needs to explain the concept of the 'middle eight' to Zelaya.
There's a hellish amount of guitar talent here, but it's not being properly exploited, conducted, or produced. Speaking of production, some of the CD seems to be a very good capture through mikes rather than boards, which unfortunately dilutes some presence. A cover artist also needs to be located, one who understands perspective foreshortening because that strumming forearm in the sepia pencil drawing is way off.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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