Friday 8 February 2019

Rival Sons - Feral Roots (2019)

Country: USA
Style: Hard Rock
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 25 Jan 2019
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I've heard a lot of good things about Rival Sons and I've heard a little of what they've done and appreciated it a great deal. I liked this album too on first listen but it may well be the first I've heard thus far this year that didn't improve on a second.

In fact, I think I actually liked it a little less and I think the reason for that is the little embellishments that are on some of the tracks, like the beginning of Sugar on the Bone, combinations of guitar distortion and keyboards that sound pretty cool on a first time through but start to get annoying on a second. Moments like this keep popping up at odd points, at the beginning or even in the middle of songs like Look Away.

The songs here are all good, often great, and they betray an intriguing set of influences, some of which are not from rock bands. The album's closer, Shooting Stars, is a straight out gospel song, for instance, and it's a real highlight. I wanted it to keep going for ten minutes with an evolution like a Nina Simone song like Sinnerman. It reminded me of the band's stunning version of Amy Winehouse's Back to Black.

Usually I'm hearing bands like Bad Company and Led Zeppelin in New Wave of Classic Rock albums rather than Amy Winehouse and Nina Simone, but hey. I ain't complainin'. There's a soulful edge all the way through, especially in the backing vocals, which start out like Lynyrd Skynyrd harmonies and move even more into Motown territory. I got a Heartless Bastards vibe on Sugar on the Bone too and some Adele on Imperial Joy, so even though it's mostly looking backwards to the seventies, it's still contemporary music.

The influence that stood out most for me is Cold Chisel, not only because lead vocalist Jay Buchanan often sounds uncannily like Jimmy Barnes, but even after Barnestorming verses, the band tend to leap into wildly catchy choruses, often literally hand clapping, foot stomping gospel shouts, like on the album opener, Do Your Worst, or the heavier and grungier Back in the Woods. Only The End of Forever has him sound more like Steve Perry.

Look Away kicks off with an acoustic guitar that sounds rather like Jimmy Page and the title track has a strong Zeppelin vibe that isn't the usual Zeppelin vibe rock bands tend to go for. It's as if they were paying more attention to the folky sounds of Going to California than Good Times Bad Times or Kashmir. It's not remotely Kingdom Come/Greta van Fleet Zeppelin.

All Directions leaps headlong into sixties psych and it's a real tribute to the range of Rival Sons that this feels natural. It ought to feel odd that there's psychedelic folk on an album that features fuzzy guitar that sometimes gets vicious in the way that the Ram Jam Band did. It's fair to suggest that some tracks, especially Back in the Woods, feel urgent as if they were recorded live in the studio. Mike Miley's drum sound especially feels very raw and I loved that.

I'm interested to see how this album will age. It's clearly a great slab of music, much deeper than Inglorious (and that goes for Jay Buchanan's voice too) and much more consistent than the Doomsday Outlaw album, even with such a wild range of influences behind it.

It's the distortion that lessens it a little for me, and not just those interesting little moments but the guitar tone on a few tracks too. While that does become annoying on a second listen, though, I'm finding that it's starting to fade away in my subconscious by the fourth or fifth time through. Yeah, I think Feral Roots is going to age just fine and it'll be talked about for a long time.

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