Rival Sons – Head Down Album Review

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Rival Sons – March 3, 2013

Finding out I was reviewing the new release, “Head Down,” from Rival Sons I Googled the band.  Classic Rock has them on the cover with the banner “Band of the Year?  The Hottest Band in Rock” pasted over their photo.  I thought who the hell are these guys?  I Googled again and found reviews that vomit every adjective in the English language, real and devised, that could possibly describe bluesy psychedelic rock.  Then I listened to the cd.  Then I opened a bottle of wine and listened to the cd again. Adjectives aside, Rival Sons creates music from something old, making it new again. This is good, my friends, you’re going to like it.

Out of California and producing interesting grind and thump blues-based classic rock and roll, Rival Sons has been embraced in Europe by fans and critics. “Head Down,” to be released March 5th, 2013 is their fourth offering and the US tour may be coming to a stage near you. I’m including links to a couple of interesting interviews at the end of this review. Get a feel for the personalities in the band because you’re going to want to party with these boys, and we have to catch up with the Brits.

Now let’s just get to the point – the music – and use the magic of the internet and have a looksee at the first song on the cd, “Keep on Swinging.”

“Keep on Swinging”  feels radio friendly with its underdog theme and a groove that makes your ass shake. And the vocals? Jay Buchanan’s voice floats and rasps here, creating urgency and anxiety. If you like what he’s doing here wait until you hear the testosterone on “Wild Animal.” With a pounding drum, slinking bass, and a trampy lead guitar groove from Scott Holiday “Wild Animal” drips good natured dirty rock and roll.  “You’re playing with a wild animal, you know I’m never gonna do what I’m told.”  I love this. Holiday refers to the band’s style as “fuzzy” and “dirty.” Yeah, it’s like that, and better.

Next is “You Want To” with a harder guitar, full and rich, edgy and dark. Evoking the blues with Buchanan’s searching, howling vocals, the lyrics are ripped from the next door neighbor’s spat at the trailer park in a fun romp, full of bad boy.  “I’m so sorry, this time I mean it, let me in, I know you want to…”  She’ll let him in.  They always do. (And this was where I could start analyzing the lyrics, seeing social commentary, but I’m sticking to my first rule of reviewing for now– Don’t Over Think Shit. It’s Only Rock and Roll.)

“Head Down” mixes the styles and energy of the songs in the lineup, going dark and then creating a lighter, garage sound. In that vein, next in line is “Until the Sun Comes.”  With lyrics feeling like a really effective pick up line, this song’s groovy beat could have tumbled right out of the AM radio in my Mum’s old LTD as the elements create a fun sexy sound nearly surfer but never cheesy. Tambourine included.

Before the cd’s lineup becomes too comfortable, “Run from Revelation” snaps the cd back to that hard edge with a strong blues riff on the guitar that in turn rounds out to a rough, heavy sound before returning to the blues.  Here Buchanan’s vocals heat up, soaring out, pleading, telling the tale of growing older.  I like the urgency at the core of this song.

Like all good rock and roll, “Head Down” never runs short of masculinity even as “Jordan” comes to a screeching halt to stop and listen as Buchanan’s vocals ache out loss.  “I’d rather see you go in the arms of your angels than to keep you right here with me.”  Strangely compelling without ever becoming sweet or sentimental, this song brings in a sound that echoes through the hollow of death and hope for a meaning in belief.

All the songs on “Head Down” pay homage to classic rock and roll icons, riffs, and effects, but the next two borrow heavily.  “All the Way,” a love song of sorts, shares DNA with Grand Funk’s “Some Kind of Wonderful” and Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky.” “The Heist” draws on strong harmonies and the Animals era to tell the tragic tale of a desperate man with mouths to feed.

And just when I’m thinking I have this band all figured out, they dodge and weave, and I feel myself breaking rule number one to dive deep and dwell on possibility. The final five songs of “Head Down” could be a vignette. I can make anything an academic endeavor, and certainly, I could be over thinking, I probably am, but these songs combine to tell a tale – planned or otherwise.  Follow me down the rabbit hole as the lyrics diverge from the typical rock and roll themes and run head long with metaphors and recounting battle beginning with “Three Fingers.” This song is a pounding riff laced around hunter and warrior images hinting of inevitable battle.  “Nava” is a charming acoustic, organic jaunt, heavy on Zepplin, with a western theme.   “Manifest Destiny I” & “Manifest Destiny II,” lead us through a remarkable psychedelic rendition of what seems to be Custer’s end at the hands of the Sioux. “True,” the final song, is acoustic and birdsong and wrenching at what may be the upper most of Buchanan’s range. It hints of naïve pioneer belief in love and worship, the basis of the cry to go West, to take it all for ourselves, to believe in the righteousness of Manifest Destiny. Sure, I could be making a lot out of nothing, but I’d like to think people with guitars and balls and stirring vocal ability and recording contracts can make statements on history’s path. At the very least, these songs are hard, thrashing rock and roll. If Mrs. Grant’s US history class had used a soundtrack like this, I’d have remembered more and liked it.

In a nut shell this is “Head Down” from Rival Sons, my friends. Jay Buchanan’s vocals are hot and interesting. Holiday make dirty and fuzzy fun again. Robin Everhart’s bass builds depth and texture while Michael Miley on drums is right out of the glory days of psychedelic and all things good. Together, Rival Sons will take you back to when music shot through your sternum and a night of rock and roll made everything feel better.

Great interviews to deepen your Rival Sons pleasure:

Derrough, Leslie Michele. “Scott Holiday of Rival Sons.” Glide Magazine 17 December 2012. – http://www.glidemagazine.com/articles/59084/scott-holiday-of-rival-sons.html

Mann, Rev Rachel. “The Faith Healers: Rival Sons Speak About Religion.” The Quietus 27 November 2012. – http://thequietus.com/articles/10762-rival-sons-interview

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