Coming in blind, there's no way anyone wouldn't guess that Red Beard aren't a band from deep in the American south. There are covers here of Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Marshall Tucker Band—and maybe more, but I didn't recognise anything else—and it's quintessential southern rock with loads of soul, country and some funk too. The album cover art doesn't hurt either, being quintessentially seventies deepsouth. Dig a little online and you'll quickly discover that this was recorded at FAME Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, "where it all began".
So, here's where I point out that Red Beard is a person before he's a band, though there are four anonymous musicians backing him up. He looks the part too but it's only if you watch the videos, a question mark will suddenly appear. That's because Red Beard is really Jaime Jiménez, who hails from the unlikely location for southern rock of Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands, which are Spanish but located off the west coast of Africa, where Morocco ends and disputed Western Sahara begins. They're autonomous and have their own flag, so I guess I'm identifying them that way.
I don't know why I didn't find him sooner, but this is the sixth Red Beard album and it's good stuff. I'm not familiar with the earlier releases, so I can't say if his sound has changed at all, but this has a sense of celebration hanging over much of it which may flavour that. There's certainly biography in the songs and the journey leads to that celebration, from Never Sounded So Good telling us that he heard his first Skynyrd song at thirteen and "it's like a lightning bolt shot down and hit me and I knew what I was gonna do from that point on" to Die Trying, which is all about the making of this album, travelling over to Muscle Shoals in what's clearly a musical pilgrimage.
These are the most real songs here, because they're so personal, and they feel a lot more natural than the opener, You Can't Stop Me, with a stop/start approach and some overtly funky beats and guitarwork. I wasn't convinced by that one but the album grows, through Never Sounded So Good, a cover of Skynyrd's Down South Jukin' and Die Trying to country songs like My Kind, which I could hear Willie Nelson covering, and the Marshall Tucker cover, Can't You See, with an imaginative Spanish take on a particularly iconic opening that returns for the other bookend.
Covering a song from Skynyrd's debut album is a ballsy step for a singer, because Ronnie van Zant delivered a genre-defining performance on it. This is a good cover but, if you listen to the original, Ronnie didn't so much sing it as allow it to leap out of his mouth without him even trying. He slurs eight words into one like he's singing through a Jack Daniels bottle. But damn, he sounds good. It seems fair to say that Red Beard sings it with more technical skill but he loses every comparison to make otherwise.
There are huge southern rock riffs here and blues guitar and plenty of soul, but what stood out for me was the organ. I have no idea who to praise here, except to point at that dude in the Die Trying video, but he's fantastic. This is secular music but there are songs here where I could see an entire Southern Baptist Church leaping to their feet and giving thanks to Jesus. He's there from moment one but there are so many great keyboard moments here, from tinkling ivories in Never Sounded So Good to the sumptuous organ intros to Die Trying and My Kind and the piano showboating that kicks off Getting Loco.
The other note I'd make here is that the closing pair of songs are easily the strongest rockers that the album has to offer, with the band finding a slightly heavier groove and jamming. There's more guitar here, both riffs and solos, with the solo in Getting Loco the most obvious on the album. There's a lot more from the backing vocalists on these too, especially the one on I Got What You Need that gets close to being a co-lead at points. These songs are Red Beard and his band getting emphatic and I kind of want an album of that now, even if my favourites here came earlier.
I'd call out Never Sounded So Good as my pick for standout song, partly because it's the closest to a Skynyrd song we haven't heard before, so much so that the backing vocals end up segueing into Sweet Home Alabama for a brief moment at the end. Mostly, though, it's because it's so joyous, a jaunty country feel with a real swing to it. The title track deserves to be, because of what it means to Red Beard, and it sounds great, but I'd probably go with My Kind next, even though it's a slower country song. Add the riot of Getting Loco to that mix and that's quite the variety on show. I need to jump backwards now and find those earlier Red Beard albums.