Fireworks

Roadhouse - 'Gods & Highways & Old Guitars' Hot

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Written by Central Electronic Brain     January 31, 2014    
 
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Some rethinking in the vocal department could be needed to take this band to the next level.

The British blues band already have an extensive back catalogue behind them, they've performed on Paul Jones' Radio 2 show, garnered some very good reviews over the years and they've supported some classic blues and rock names such as Joe Bonassama, the Animals, the Yardbirds and Pat Travers. Their approach is a mix of blues and Americana music that attempts to conjure up the spirits that have made the USA what it is. The sepia cover evokes a John Steinbeck novel and hints at the open roads, the dust bowls and the hope and despair of the highways of America. There's also the sound of the roadhouse, juke joints and even native American folk tales. The band have been seduced by America in the way the British bands of the 60s were.

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Guitar wise it's great. Gary Boner and Danny Gwiliym peel off bluesy licks and throw out interesting, varied emotive solos that lead you by the hand through the highways, byways and dark alleys of the States. So far so good, but vocally the record doesn't work so well. It's an interesting line-up with one male singer and 3 female backing singers who step forward to take lead on occasion, so what's the problem? Gary Boner's vocal style is raw and ragged and while that might work for Tom Waits or Howlin' Wolf it doesn't have the nuance and subtlety to compliment the guitar playing. What he doesn't have in range, he tries to compensate for by going gravelly. It feels more pub than juke joint when he sings. To compound the situation, the female singers who sound great when adding backing vocals, and creating a wider soundscape, don't really pull it off when they take the lead vocal role. They sing well enough but there's not quite the character there to match the music.

However, the vocals might not be such a sticking point for you and there are some well-crafted songs on here, 'Hell On Wheels' and 'Slow Down' having great driving rhythms, ideal for putting your foot to the floor. 'Skinwalker' and 'Sinner' are big on atmosphere while 'The Big Easy' has a real 'Black Velvet', hot and sweaty vibe. If the vocals can connect with you this is a fine rocky, Americana record but if you share my reservations then some rethinking in the vocal department could be needed to take this band to the next level.

Duncan Jamieson

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