Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Rival Sons - Great Western Valkyrie (2014)

Rival Sons, a Californian blues rock group that the Classic Rock Magazine has hailed as “saviors of rock and roll”, has just released a new album called Great Western Valkyrie. I must admit that it is an album that I have been dying to hear for quite a while, ever since the band announced that they have started working on new material. I have been an adamant fan since I first heard the band, right after the release of their second album, Pressure and Time, and with the recognition they have been receiving from the blues rock community, they have quite big shoes to fill with the new one.

The band was formed in 2009 when the other members convinced Jay Buchanan, a folk singer at the time, to try rock ’n’ roll, and thank god they did, because otherwise, one of the greatest modern rock vocalists might never have found his calling. The drums are handled by Michael Miley, who as an interesting side note resides in Estonia, when the band is not on tour. The guitarist of the band is Scott Holiday and the current bass player is Dave Beste.

Great Western Valkyrie seems to keep Rival Sons’ winning formula going: make pure and unadulterated blues rock, the way it was made in 60’s and 70’s. The album feels gritty and powerful, but most importantly, human. They haven’t sucked the life out of the songs by overproducing or over-editing them. Most of the songs have been tracked live, with the whole band together and most of what ended up on the album were the first or second takes of songs. It has been the way they’ve done things from the beginning, and to me that is a big part of the Rival Sons’ magic. You get what you hear, and the best part is that they are able to reproduce the same thing in a live situation.

The sound of the album seems to be both more refined but also in some aspects much wilder.  The album as a whole feels much tighter and more consistent sounding than Head Down, the previous record. But Scott Holiday, the guitarist seems to have turned all of his fuzzes up to eleven. The guitar sounds are definitely much more gritty, fuzzy and experimental on the new album. On Head Down, pretty much the whole album sounded the same as far as guitars are concerned, but on Great Western Valkyrie, Holiday seems to have worked a lot, trying to find different sounds to suit each song, and I certainly think it has been a big improvement. However, the main thing that caught my attention, was how big and punchy the drums sound, I’m sure that Michael Miley’s chops  play a big part in this, but whatever they did this time, it feels like a perfect modern answer to John Bonham’s quest for the ultimate drum sound.

As far as the songs go, right off the bat, the first one, Electric Man, gets the album off to fuzzy and groovy start with the ballsy guitar and huge drums. Electric Man was also the first track released as an iTunes teaser. Throughout the song, Miley lays down the Rival Sons’ signature hit the bell as hard as you possibly can drum groove, which Beste nicely compliments with a funky bass track. The band took quite a blow, when the previous bassist, Robin Everhart announced sometime in last year that touring life is not for him, and they will need to find a new bass player. So far it seems that their choice has been a very good one.

The next song, Good Luck, keeps the energy of Electric Man going with a nice, slightly cliché breakup song, which includes an interesting, gritty sounding dialog-like solo in the end. The third song, Secret, kicks things into next gear and is undoubtedly the most intense one on the album. Miley and Holiday have seriously outdone themselves with this one, the heavy swinging feel of the song is something to be revered. As far as the vocals are concerned, well, you can almost hear the ripping of Buchanan’s vocal chords despite the pretty heavily distorted vocal sound. Play the Fool keeps the classic Rival Sons’ vibe going and is another upbeat song, with a little jam section in the middle, to give it a more interesting twist.

Good Things, however, is something completely different, a slower, more laid back song with a very prominent keyboard part. The keyboards are something that in my opinion separate this album from the previous ones, the band has always included some keyboards, tucked away in the back of the mix, but on Great Western Valkyrie, they are much more prominently featured and Good Things is the most heavily keyboard driven song on the album. It is also the song that seems to feature Beste’s best bass work, with a groove that is absolutely vital to the song.

Open My Eyes is the first official single of the album and opens with a very Zeppelinesque phased drum intro, followed by the heaviest and most memorable riff of the record. It’s quite easy to see, why this track was chosen as the first single, it really grabs you from the start and doesn’t let go, until you’ve been thoroughly shaken by the badass groove.

Rich and the Poor is another song with prominent keyboards, I especially liked the way that the guitar and the keyboard work together to compliment the main melody in the bridges of the song, and for that reason, this one became my favorite from the album.

Belle Starr also differs from the usual upbeat Rival Sons song and combines heavy guitars with slower and more relaxed sections. The song is about a notorious American outlaw, but for some reason feels like it would be more at home as a Bonnie and Clyde type movie soundtrack.

Where I’ve Been is the only ballad on the album, it has quite a significant country feel to it as it progresses from its quiet acoustic beginning to the intense end with some nice touchy-feely lead guitar work by Holiday. The last song, Destination on Course also starts out as a ballad, but ends up in a crazy psychedelic jam, with some very interesting guitar leads thrown all over the stereo panorama. I also like the fact that they included some choral singing in this one, it really seems somewhat out of place, but intensifies the psychedelic, trippy feel of the song.

As a whole, I think that Great Western Valkyrie is some of Rival Sons’ best work up to date. It delivers pretty much exactly what the fans were expecting from them: a raw intense rock album with a few quirks thrown in for good measure. Although I feel that the quirk department was a little lacking for my personal taste. The album could definitely have used another song like Destination on Course, essentially a nice jam song, but the current offerings are by no means bad and I’m sure that it is another Rival Sons album that will become a modern classic as far as blues rock goes.

Taavo Teras

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