Just when I thought new rock and roll might be dead… enter, Rival Sons…they pull me back in…
I was sitting in the home office last night, lamenting the fact that I didn’t have anything to write about. I’ve been spending too much time in 2016 writing RIP pieces for my rock heroes. There wasn’t a lot of music I had teed up to write about. I keep a running list of ideas but none were jumping out at me. The Rock Chick wandered through the office and quickly surmised my predicament, “You know, you don’t always have to write about “retro” music, some people like new music… gotta keep up with the times.” Oh, thank you my muse… her support is sometimes…underwhelming. I must admit the Rock Chick has a life-time ban here at BourbonAndVinyl for criticizing my grammatical correctness and my sentence structure.
I quickly consulted my list of things to write about when I found a crinkled-up cocktail napkin with the words, “Rival Sons kick ass” scrawled on it. My list isn’t on one piece of paper… it’s fluid. Sometimes “you just have to let art… flow over you.” About a month ago, I went to see Black Sabbath live at the Sprint Center… I documented the experience in these very pages. I partied that night with the Four Horsemen of the Salina Apocalypse and apparently after the show, while being force-fed bourbon, I wrote myself this cocktail napkin note. This could be the creative spark I was looking for. Before we headed into the show, at the bar one of the Four Horsemen had said, “you’re going to love this opening act, Rival Sons, very Zeppelin-esque.” I awoke the next morning with a terrible hangover and the aforementioned cocktail napkin. There was a while there, the day after the show, when I feared I was going to have to have my blood exchanged with the blood of some young virgin, Swiss school children the way Keith Richards did… beautiful people, the Swiss…but I digress.
The night of the concert, I recall being very impressed with Rival Sons. Typically during an arena show during the opening act, the fans stay outside the concert, near the beer lines and restrooms. Not so for Rival Sons. The crowd mostly stayed in their seats and watched the set. I must say, these guys were very charismatic on stage. Not a lot of banter, just straight up, bluesy, rock and roll. I was a tad put off that the lead singer was barefoot, that unwashed hippy stuff was never my thing, but other than that these guys shredded. Guitarist Scott Holiday especially caught my attention. I must admit, barefoot vocalist Jay Buchanan was pretty talented as well.
As a result of all of this, I picked up their 2014 album ‘Great Western Valkyries’. These guys have been compared to Zeppelin and Sabbath in the press, but listening to the album, only the title has a Sabbath feel. Well, that and the first track, “Electric Man”, which has a very Sabbath, riffy sound to it. “Electric Man” jumps out at you like the slap of angry girlfriend. It’s all grimy guitar and fuzzy vocals. It’s rock and roll like I didn’t think was being recorded any more. I will admit that this band is everything I thought Wolfmother would be. Frankly, I think these guys are better.
While Rival Sons’ music is informed by Zeppelin, and you can hear the references, they make it their own and make it all sound fresh. “Play the Fool” has a crunchy riff that is reminiscent of “Misty Mountain Hop” but it’s repurposed and wonderful here. “Secrets” in an odd way reminds me of “How Many More Times” but again, that may be me making the connection vs the band doing so. There is an element of Zeppelin here, but I also hear a mixture of all their influences – “Good Luck” and “Good Things” have a feel of early 60’s white blues bands like Them, perhaps a touch of Butterfield and especially the Animals. It’s probably the organ in the rhythm section that makes you feel that way. The influences are there, but not as obvious as say, Lenny Kravitz.
I will admit, the song “Rich and the Poor” is the only mis-step here. The lyrics are cringe-worthy… It’s a rare mistake on an otherwise solid record. Admittedly, the music is still strong, but the lyrics are ludicrous.
The album ends with two epic tunes. “Where I’ve Been” is one of my favorite blues rock songs in a long, long time…”how could you love me when you know where I’ve been?”… who hasn’t asked that question. The finale and centerpiece to this record is the “Dazed and Confused”-like album closer, “Destination On Course”. “Destination…” is an epic blues tune. They even bring in backing vocals from the Exorcist, which probably brings the Sabbath comparisons… The guitar solo on this song is worth the price of admission. What Holiday is doing to that guitar should be reported as a crime, and that’s a good thing.
“Great Western Valkyries” is in high rotation here in the BourbonAndVinyl room… and I advise you to buy it quickly, pour something strong and turn it up… It may not be life changing like listening to Zeppelin the first time, but it is refreshing to hear a band play hard-core, blues rock again. This is definitely a band to keep an eye on. I expect big, big things. As my friend Blake texted to me recently, “Are you ready to rock?” Thank Heaven I am…