Bay Area rock-guitar whiz Joe Satriani has long taken the high road as a musician, choosing to perform his own idiosyncratic material for a devoted cult following rather than pursue the more lucrative career of a high-profile sideman. Fifteen years and six solo albums after he scored a surprise instrumental rock hit with Surfing with the Alien, heís still doing what he does best: catchy, upbeat surf metal and soul-searching ballads, with more alternately explosive and weeping guitar solos than you can swing a whammy bar at.
The surprise highlight here is a straight cover of Santo & Johnnyís 1959 Billboard #1 instrumental hit "Sleep Walk," which finds him at his least metal and most tasteful; it also features a stately guest appearance by the legendary Robert Fripp. And after experimenting with techno in recent years, Satriani returns to the basic power-trio format with bassist Matt Bissonette and drummer Jeff Campitelli, who are more about rocking than about showing off. "Chords of Life" is a clever mixture of Hendrix and new age that sounds cooler than it looks on paper; "Mind Storm" is the discís most relentless metal stomp. Satriani will never be as strange as he thinks he is, but thereís more beauty in his music than heís usually given credit for.
(Joe Satriani performs next Thursday, September 12, at FleetBoston Pavilion. Call 617-728-1600.)