This is another one of those reviews that I have been dithering over for a while. You know the way it is …… any old excuse to put it off. Being talked into letting other albums jump the queue and so on. So why the reluctance to review. Well initially it was down to the hype. You see, tell me I should like something because it is the greatest thing since sliced bread and my defences are up straight away. I’m not going to be informed by anyone else what I should and shouldn’t like. Actually that is a pretty stupid thing for someone who is a reviewer to say if I think about it. But in my defence I try to suggest rather than instruct ….. at least I hope I do anyway. Less of the waffle and get on with the review I hear you cry so back to the reason for my lack of alacrity. You see not long after this album came out you couldn’t open a rock magazine or tune into a rock radio station without hearing how Rival Sons were the new Led Zeppelin and had breathed new life into the rock scene. Well those of us that have been around a while have heard all that before and seen the pretenders fall by the wayside with disappointing regularity. The trouble is these lot actually sounded a whole lot better than most of those other bands and they seemed like good guys too. Had their heads screwed on and had a healthy respect for their musical forefathers. So the only option was to wait for the hype to die down a little and then make a more reasoned judgement in a month or so.
As you can see that idea went right out of the window as here we are almost a year later, there is still no review forthcoming from Leedham Towers and the hype is still as strong as ever on the back of some blinding live dates supporting firstly Judas Priest and then Black Stone Cherry. So I have finally succumbed to pressure and time (groan) and decided to get on with the job in hand.
Rival Sons were formed in California in the summer of 2008 and released their first album “Beyond The Fire”, a digital only self release, just over a year later. A track from that album ‘Tell Me Something” was used to promote Indy Car racing. That exposure brought them to the attention of Earache Records and they signed them in 2010. Their first commercially available album “Pressure and Time” was recorded in less than three weeks and released in June 2011.
One of the first things that hits you about the album when it starts is the dirty grungy in your face production from Dave Cobb. This is raw and exciting and has a live feel seldom heard in studio albums these days. The similarities to Zeppelin and Free are obvious right from the outset. That heavy tyres on a muddy road sound favoured by Free on tracks like ‘Ride On Pony’ is evident in the opener ‘All Over The Road’ even if it is far more frenetic and boystrous than Free ever sounded. The dirty guitar and chugging rhythm is superbly punctuated by some hard riffing and up front soloing which all works perfectly alongside a very sixties sounding musical break towards the end.
The sixties blues rock feel is even more evident in the second track ‘Young Love’. It is almost a Rolling Stones meets The Doors track with a chunk of early Jeff Beck Group thrown in for good measure. The opening riff is almost hypnotic and Jay Buchanan’s vocal veers between something akin to Jim Morrison and Robert Plant with surprising ease. Even the chorus of whoa-whoa’s adds to the feel of the song rather than cheapen it and its upbeat party feel makes it one of the albums highlights.
The title track also boasts a mighty fine riff that many a more seasoned band would be proud of and the energy just jumps out of the speakers or cans and grabs you by the throat. When this is played live or in a rock club I would seriously doubt anyone could keep still for longer than a second or two. Scott Holiday throws in another great guitar solo and Robin Everhart and Michael Miley on bass and drums once again keep everything tight but delightfully loose.
After the three pronged punch of the opening tracks things get just a little mellower for ‘Only One’. This for me is the clear album highlight and lifts the quality to a higher level entirely. For the first time there is a little light and shade and the use of the melody and the sparseness of the arrangement towards the end push the track into a bluesy Whitesnake or Bad Company sound. It is the first real opportunity for Buchanan to display the quality in his phrasing and ability to carry a melody. It is also one of only two tracks on the album to feature a Wurlitzer and B3 organ courtesy of special guest Arlan Shierbaum. The difference it gives to their sound cannot be over emphasised and I would seriously hope that it is used more on the follow up album. My only criticism of the track is that it is not long enough and should have been extended to give it more atmosphere.
Things go back to straight up 100mph hard rock with ‘Get Mine’ which is a pretty standard and slightly disappointing sort of track before ‘Burn Down Los Angeles’ gets us back on track with two and a half minutes of raw power and energy.
‘Save Me’ has the feel of “Presence” era Led Zeppelin even if it falls a little short of the quality of that album or the first four tracks on here. ‘Gypsy Heart’ meanwhile takes the same feel of that Zeppelin album and throws in a huge chunk of Sammy Hagar led Montrose for good measure.
‘White Noise’ is almost a cross betwen blues metal and punk all backed up with a tribal sort of rhythm. On first listening it sounds far more filler than killer but is a bit of a grower and whilst it is far from the album highlight it is still worthy of its inclusion. In fact I would guess it could be a favourite of fans of a more metallic sounding rock.
Album closer ‘Face of Light’ on the other hand is the second of the more mellow tracks and is positively drenched in the feeling of Led Zeppelin III. The use of the B3 and Wurlitzer again giving their sound another dimension. The track features another great Robert Plant style vocal alongside some very Jimmy Pagesque acoustic guitar. Take nothing away from them though for this is far more than just a Zeppelin clone of a track and is superbly written, crafted and arranged. A beautiful melancholy but dynamic end to a truly wonderful listening experience.
Rival Sons will undoubtedly be compared to the blues boom bands of the late sixties and seventies and there is no hiding the fact that the feel of Led Zeppelin in particular is evident in most if not all of the tracks. But that is not something they should be vilified for. Not when it is done with the quality that is displayed on “Pressure and Time” anyway. The only concern for me, and the only reason it drops a star in rating is the brevity of the tracks. The length of the album itself is not so much the issue as the length of the individual tracks. Album closer ‘Face of Light’ is the only track on the album that clocks in over three and a half minutes and no less than five of the tracks are three minutes or less in length. What the album really needs for me is a couple of extended tracks which display the obvious quality in the rhythm section and give guitarist Holiday the chance to do some serious soloing. With more use of the organ, a little more use of the light and shade of ‘Only One’ and ‘Face of Light’, and a little more length to some of their tracks Rival Sons could well turn out to be worthy of all the hype. “Pressure and Time” is undoubtedly one of the best rock releases of 2011 and is easy to recommend. Even if it took me an age to get around to it.
© Martin Leedham. First published on RYM April 2012