Slowly building a reputation in Europe and the US for the best part of a decade this Californian quintet is little known in the UK. That should be all about to change with the release of this stunning album. Tagged as Southern Rock, like their forefathers Lynyrd Skynyrd, this band have a lot more to their game than your average boogie. Skynyrd transcended pigeon-holing because it was all about the songs – which had a universal appeal – I feel the same about these guys. This is an album that keeps the listener guessing. Monster riffs, acoustic delicacy, rootsy soaring harmonies and brutal angst – you never know what’s around the next corner.
The breezy, countrified ‘Oh Miss Carolina’ sets the ball rolling, a feel good tune featuring the stinging guitar of Henry James over a tune that immediately worms its way into your brain – an instant classic. The band then take a new turn, following on with the Stax-like sound of ‘Work It Out’ complete with soulful backing singers (courtesy of Joe Bonamassa) and full horn section, this is a tune that exemplifies the versatility the band. The fun then continues with the chugging ‘Can’t Stand It’ – a sun-drenched rocker that takes you back to early Eagles territory all topped off with a nod to the Allman Brothers harmony guitars.
The bittersweet anthem ‘Tired of Drinking Alone’ is a yearning song of reconciliation that will have the couples swaying in the aisles. Sung with great sensitivity by RJ, the pathos is heightened by a beautifully realised slide guitar solo (that man James again) that has just the right amount of melancholic panache to moisten the eyes.
The second half of the album sees the band really stretching out. Aggressive riffs, trademark harmonies and imaginative arrangements at times recall classic roots rock’s finest moments, but such is the strength of the song-writing and musicianship that it never descends into cliché. Then we have ‘One Last Time’, which starts as a reflective piece of country before morphing into a barnstorming snarling beast that takes the listener’s breath away.
But hey the best is yet to come. The painfully expressive ‘Gold’ is not a song to listen to if you’re going through some romantic trauma. The sombre piano of Steve Maggiora paints the scene before a soul bearing vocal delivers lyrics that are brutal in places: ‘You’ll probably be divorced when you’re thirty, two kids on child support you’ll probably be thinkin’ about me’. And that’s just for starters! Henry James then takes the song with a neck shaking guitar solo that truly reflects the singer’s heartbreak.
Finally, ‘Last Light On The Highway Pts 1 & 2’ takes the band on a fresh path. An almost folksy introduction, thanks to some understated, haunting, acoustic guitar and vocals explores the journey a musician must take in a quest for recognition – the hopes, the dreams and the risks with no guarantees. Part 2 of the song is a suite that sees the band veering into progressive rock territory. A composition that ebbs and flows through sweeping orchestration and tumultuous instrumental passages, reflecting perhaps a move towards a new dawn. Eden is in sight?
For fans of rock which acknowledges its place and background this album is a delight from start to finish. A compelling collection of sublime melodies and expressive performances that take RJ & The Wreck way out in front of the competition.