The aggressive "Shark" benefits hugely from Jon Wikan's choppy drum-and-bass influenced drumming and Waldorff's piquant melody. The tune provides a perfect springboard for eloquent solos by the always-inspired Donny McCaslin (on tenor sax) and Waldorff himself, here sporting a boldly distorted tone and an unusually feisty demeanor. The bulk of American Rock Beauty, however, finds the band swimming through much mellower waters. "Waves" is based on a hypnotically rhythmic vamp that gives the tune a halting, vulnerable quality and provides both the soloists and the rhythm section with plenty of interesting angles. This tune is a perfect setting for Cowherd's cat's paw-soft Rhodes solo. Cowherd's reverb-laden Rhodes also provides an appealing setting for the darkly lovely title track, which is not a rock tune at all, but seems to have affinities with the sort of jazzy folk-rock that I associate with artists such as Joni Mitchell. Waldorff's solo here is especially impressive. "Late" is somewhat more heated and provides a perfectly-tailored environment for the virtuosic, passionate McCaslin whose expressive soloing provides a consistently interesting counterpoint to the overall mellowness of Waldorff's music. "Lama" features a funky, interesting rhythmic figure taken a molasses-slow tempo and seems to draw some inspiration from the Miles Davis' tune "Shhh, Peaceful" on In A Silent Way. Here, drummer Jon Wikan chips in a brilliantly detailed solo that shows us why he's one of New York's more in-demand drummers.
Less inspired is "Shining Through," a very simple country-sounding piece that literally sounds like a minute variation on "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye," the oft-covered pop tune originally recorded by the fictitious studio group Steam and later covered by countless sports stadium organists. Though he gives it his best, even an improviser as accomplished as McCaslin can't do much with material this skimpy. As solid and vital as the rest of American Rock Beauty is, the inclusion of this rather slight bit of fluff had me scratching my head.