It takes very little time to determine which was David Brewbaker’s favorite decade of music on his new, groovy record, “A Sign of Life.”

The thing is painted with deep swirling purples and golds, slippery major and minor-seventh chords up and down the neck, a la Steely Dan, and affected inflection, in homage to Mark Knopler’s speaky husk. That’s right: straight up, New York jazz-rock fusion.

An interesting genre, this. It kind of gave birth to easy jazz, elevator Muzak and the Kenny G stylings with which they insist on blanketing the local forecast on the Weather Channel.

Somehow, though, Brewbaker’s ax and capable friends (like Sly Chi’s Brian Graham on sax) cut through the wince-worthy electric keys. In sum, there are lots of good and bad decisions swimming around in the same soup.

“Crazy Eddie” sets the tone with a lower-the-lights tempo, Brewbaker owning it on bass, and in-the-pocket fills and solos. When the guy lets the guitar sing, the project makes a lot of sense. Lyrically, the song picks up where “Mr. Wendel” or Everlast’s “What It’s Like” left off, ascribing mystical genius to the fellas less fortunate.

It’s a fantastic theme for a guitar song. It must be mentioned, however, that finding out that drums are programmed on a record is like finding out your rangoon is filled with that pale-pink imitation seafood instead of real crab. You stop chewing, and politely ask for a napkin.

When Brewbaker unplugs, he doesn’t switch out of the ’70s; he just gets his inner Willie Nelson on. The freaky thing? For as derivative as these seven tunes can sound, this gifted guitarist has channeled his unabashed love of an era into a sure mastery of the sound.

Take “The Sea of Cortez,” for which, right in the center of the record, Brewbaker is playing free, with Dire Straits fills over a brisk, dusty-road acoustic ballad. The vocals are in a nice, confident range, and the tune cranks confidently forward. On “A Slip of the Tongue,” Brewbaker nails back-porch country by letting a slide guitar soar.

As a top-shelf guitarist and crafter of melodies, Brewbaker should dial down his poetic aspirations (Goofy and Mickey body parts?), craft minimalist lyrics and fall in love with a drummer. It would be fantastic to hear this guitar rip over a tight, live rhythm section on a 17-minute cover of “Jungle Love.”

As a keeper of the groove-flame, Brewbaker deserves high accolades. He just needs to be careful about overreaching.

 

Mike Olcott is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.