Guitarists whose playing is truly unique and identifiable are few and far between. Sure, you can maybe listen to two seconds of a solo and know who’s playing it and what song it’s off of, but what if it were a new song? Eddie Van Halen? Sure. Brian May? Maybe. If Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn were alive I’d throw them into the mix. But one person truly deserving of being in that conversation is the late, great Allan Holdsworth, whose virtuosity on the instrument is matched by his unique way of using harmony to construct massively complex chord structures that delicately balance straight jazz, fusion, and pop. I.O.U. stands out as a masterpiece that recalls the best of what Holdsworth brought to music, still vibrantly alive almost 40 years after it was recorded.
It’s not only his incredible legato playing that’s a marvel; check out the vocal melodies that adorn songs like opener “The Things You See (When You Haven’t Got Your Gun)” or “Out From Under.” Vocalist Paul Williams (not *that* one) is fantastic, and the way the songs are constructed bear more than a passing similarity to how King Crimson would utilize melodies when Adrian Belew was in the band. But the main draw here is Holdsworth’s playing, and not just the incredible solos. The fact this was originally recorded in 1978 is even more astounding, coming years before Holdsworth would seriously get into the synthaxe. Just gorgeous and technical and beautifully layered, kind of like a really good Steely Dan album, but with more ridiculous solo runs.
I’m under the weather, so rather than write more here’s a video of Holdsworth trying to explain how he thinks of chords: