Review by Paul H Birch
Release Date: 16 May 2014
Some people just don’t like Glenn Hughes: be it his voice or his larger-than-life personality. Many got into him via Black Country Communion and most folk know where he’s perched on the Deep Purple Family Tree, but few have actually heard that band from Cannock he was in. There are others who can’t keep up with his post-addiction output. Me, I bought the T-shirt and my daughter wears it to his concerts, but aside from a handful of songs, I consider BCC a creative step backwards, mainly because producer Kevin Shirley had them aping Led Zeppelin too often, and was concerned there’d be more retro-grazing fodder with Dave Cobb at the controls for Hughes and Jason Bonham’s subsequent regrouping as California Breed.
At this point in rock’s ragged history there’s no way what’s gone before can’t have an influence; it’s how musicians use that to create something relevant for our times. Fortunately, Cobb has captured what encompasses three generations of musicians listening to and complimenting each other, and what’s most apparent is Hughes is now a team player: Yes he can still wail out on cue like a baby demanding attention but more often he returns to lessons learnt as a kid in the original five-piece Trapeze where it was all about vocal harmonies and melody. Meanwhile, his bass loops, slides, and gets suitably beefy while Bonham’s drums beat resolutely and shift each song’s tempo with finesse. But is young Andrew Watts up to the job? Well, anyone whose similarities to Jimmy Page are chord textures and melodic departures, not the ripping-off of riffs has me interested, though on the whole it’s a frothy modern American schooled guitar sound I hear, plus he’s got one hell of a voice himself.
The world’s already been exposed to ‘Sweet Tea’, a reworking of Humble Pie’s ‘Thunderbox’ as sassy strutting T. Rex funk, and they followed that with ‘Midnight Oil’ as a single wherein chord-rallying verses blister and melt from bridges to rising choruses, but place cotton wool in your ears when opening number ‘The Way’ crashes in with its grinding rock, lead drumming and skewered guitar effects like some bastard offshoot from Red-era King Crimson. A defiant statement of intent akin to BCC’s own ‘Black Country’ it’s built with a readymade section for live audience participation, and is bostin’!
Lyrically, we’re talking in-the-moment moods, a bit of sex, some Californian new age post-hippy postulating, and possibly a fragmented song cycle with the latter numbers. Deeper emotions get embraced throughout ‘All Fall Down’, initially calling to mind the vocal melody to Purple’s ‘Holy Man’ as Hughes reflects over affairs of the heart, Watts’ guitar cascading in and out sympathetically before a stadium-sized solo comes out of nowhere and his own voice sings alongside Hughes to makes it an impassioned duet. Again, live this could be something incredibly special. That it’s followed by ‘The Grey’ will have you wondering: are they taking the piss? Because the Cannock chaser opts for a laconic nasal delivery over a wiry-riffed indie rocker more likely to be found on an Oasis record. Likewise, ‘Spit You Out’ could be Blur meets Stormbringer-period Purple. Oddball, for sure.
Where they push ahead into new creative directions are on songs like ‘Strong’ built around a strummed acoustic, depth added by slashing electric chords, Hughes singing reflectively again while Bonham’s drumming actively counterpoints everything, with brief musical asides before building towards a crescendo. ‘Chemical Rain’ threatens with corrosive progressive might before folding back as an electric strums, live sounding vocal harmonies wash in and it all slowly gains critical mass: vocals raging and screaming with siren-wailing guitars.
Noisy rockers like ‘Invisible’ and the boogie thrashing ‘Scars’ offer both familiarity and unexpected confrontation; and yet most everything on this album does. Maybe the problem with the concluding ‘Breath’ that co-features Julian Lennon on vocals, is that it’s generally a quieter more relaxed song than the ones that have gone before and you almost tune out not listening properly until it’s almost over, but you should: lay back in your armchair with a glass of chilled wine, then as the band become more intense pour a glass of fine brandy ready to sip as Watts concludes everything with a brief eloquent melodic coda.
Financially, I hope this band succeeds, because then they get to continue to be creative rather than live on past glories and I look forward to the directions that may take. Until then, California Breed is on permanent rotation.
9 out of 10
- The Way
- Sweet Tea
- Chemical Rain
- Midnight Oil
- All Falls Down
- The Grey
- Days They Come
- Spit You Out