Style: Southern Rock
Release Date: 25 Oct 2019
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Of all the southern rock albums I've reviewed this year, I believe that the Macon, GA-based Magnolia Moon are the only ones to actually come from where we might expect. The genre has found legs, it seems, so I'm finding bands in Greece and Germany and, here, Bristol, England, though some of the musicians are from south Wales. Now, I was born in the south of England and this isn't what I heard growing up, but it wouldn't have been a bad swap.
Sons of Liberty play a British hard rock take on American southern rock, so the guitars are more restrained and less prone to finger pickin' duels. The vocals arguably lead the way, though Rob Cooksley is an easy gateway to the guitars, which are stellar. The midsections of Start It Up and Old Soak Joe are just two highlights. The end result is surely southern rock, but I could imagine Sons of Liberty playing really well with British bikers. They could easily play alongside bands like Asomvel, Dumpy's Rusty Nuts or Status Quo.
While the listed influences are the expected brace of southern boogie bands, Sons of Liberty don't really sound like any of them. If I was forced to pick one now, I'd suggest that they're much lot closer to Molly Hatchet than the Allman Brothers, but the band who sprang to mind often was a surprising one: Los Bastardos Finlandeses, albeit because of the tone driven by the back end and the effortlessly powerful rough but melodic lead vocal. They'd be a good touring partner too.
This is the band's debut album, though they've been around since 2014. Last year saw a couple of EPs but this is a strong debut at a full length and it's stronger for an excellent production job. Cooksley has a big voice to begin with and he doesn't have to stretch at all; when he does, it sounds all the better. A pair of guitars sit alongside him and they're both busy and lively. The band was founded by the two guitarists, Fred Hale and Andy Muse, and they're the driving force behind the southern sound.
The back end, Steve Byrne on drums and Mark Thomas on bass, are solid and reliable. The former gets jaunty on a number of songs, even funky on Marvin Popcorn Sutton. I'd have liked to have heard the bass a little more because it's fantastic when it gets the spotlight, like halfway through Lead Don't Follow.
The album kicks in well with It's My Bad, a phrase which I have to realise isn't a common one back home in Blighty, though it's commonplace here in Phoenix. If you haven't heard it, it roughly acknowledges, "I screwed up. Sorry." There isn't anything for the Sons of Liberty to apologise for, though, because it serves as the first of eleven solid tracks. While I surely like some of them more than others, your favourites may not be mine and that's fine. None are lower quality songs failing to keep the side up. They all do the job.
Personally, I like Sons of Liberty better as a rocking band than a soulful one, but they do both well. A track like Into the Great Unknown shows both sides of that coin. It starts out slow and never really speeds up to tempos the band has already demonstrated, but it does build fantastically well. It has a full minute on anything else on the album and, while it's no Freebird, Whipping Post or Green Grass and High Tides, there are a couple of excellent solos: the first rocks and the second soars. It's a grower.
The southern style is there throughout, but it really comes out to shine on the first standout song, Snake Hips Slim. Marvin Popcorn Sutton has a great southern vibe, even with a funky beat and points where Cooksley finds a roar worthy of Angry Anderson. There are story songs too, like Old Soak Joe, that are southern in more than sound. The harmonica on Up Shit Creek, a phrase I think needs no explanation, adds to that too.
The more I listen to this, the better it gets. Initially, I liked them most as a sort of nine pound hammer: a force to be reckoned with when things need to be hit hard but not as useful when the need for subtlety takes over. That feel goes away after a couple of times through, because they're damn good at subtlety too. Over maybe three listens, Into the Great Unknown shifted from possibly my least favourite song to possibly the strongest highlight on the album.
This is really good stuff and I'm aware that they probably sound ten times as good on stage because there's an energy apparent here that you just can't capture on a studio album, even with a great production job. We have cowboys out here in Arizona; we're worthy of a tour too!