Eight tracks, all new, none overlong and the whole thing around the length of a traditional vinyl long player. Paul Rogers is a traditionalist in more ways than one. His stock in trade formed when rock was young and he sang with Free, then solidified and brokered to a worldwide arena when Bad Company rode into town. We tend to expect few surprises musically these days, but rarely is there a complaint about the quality of the man’s voice.
As with this record’s length, Rogers never overplays it live on stage, thus helping preserving the quality of that voice. Here on this record, it remains clear, still manly, and expressive, but no longer aggressive. You never doubt the force behind it but that it’s thinning out must also be acknowledged, of only when comparing to yesteryear – Let’s face it, there are singers the world over who could never imagine delivering tunes half as good as this 73-year old on Midnight Rose.
Those songs are all penned by Rogers, except for recent single, ‘Living It Up’, co-written with bassist Todd Ronning, and drummer Rick Fedyk from his solo band. Who the rest of the musicians are I can’t confirm – former Heart guitarist/keyboard player Howard Leese may well fill out the former role at least, and it would be interesting to know who supplies what appear to be female backing vocals across a number of tracks.
On opening number ‘Coming Home’ the drums hit hard with a familiar enough pattern, then keep the ear more firmly trained as they teasingly play with that beat, all while guitars shuffle and bristle sharply enough along, similarly hitting recognisable hot spot chord changes, but it’s the voice that has the listener sitting comfortably in their safe place. Mr Rogers (let’s treat the man with respect) calls out above the musical din. “In a place without pity, we have done all we can, we have tried to bring peace with the weapons at hand,” he sings. The lyrics that follow obliquely giving the impression he’s been in some MASH-like scenario, now through with playing doctor he’s leaving the war zone; of course, it’s more likely a metaphor for that dirty old rock and roll game. That, and the reality that he wrote this album at home in the USA during the Covid pandemic and the hook lines: “Coming home to the one I truly love, Coming home again,” reveal it as ultimately a love song to his wife, who was possibly in the next room when he wrote it, a little less profound. But don’t let me spoil the magic. With strong able six-string shooting near latter part of the song, things get off to an interesting start.
Borrowing its title somewhat from Bad Company’s second album, ‘Photo Shooter’ leads in with slide guitar work over a rumbling rock and blues number, while Rogers explores the values of photo-journalism over paparazzi snapshots lyrically. Then, the acoustics come out to chime and chug on ‘Midnight Rose’ – this takes a more Americana country gospel approach when organ and piano enter the picture, and there’s possibly a fiddle or two in there also, nicely opening the musical template. Again, it’s Rogers voice that draws attention though, and this feels live, or at least featuring a close microphone that draws out a vibrant honest intimacy.
‘Living It Up’ is a Running With The Pack-era Bad Company style staccato stadium rocker, Rogers oozes out machismo, albeit on a song telling us how wonderfully lucky he is to be living on the other side of The Atlantic – perhaps not so timely now with the malicious antics of Trump on one side and Biden on the other, exemplifying the current state of the US nation.
Flamenco styled guitars play their way both prettily and effectively through ‘Dance In The Sun’, with added female vocals backing and harmonising. This is part waltz, part Mex-Tex blues and a little something extra. A change of style and good for it, as Rogers delivers a compelling love story. Whereas ‘Take Love’ is classic rock, classic Rogers, but again there’s that female voice there that adds an unexpected welcoming nuance that plays against the singer’s stereotype. I know he’s sung with Deborah Bonham in the past, but I’d really be up for hearing Rogers going completely out of his comfort zone, on a whole album duetting with a woman – I think it might illicit even more mainstream contemporary interest than Robert Plant’s work with Alison Krauss et al. Musically, acoustics strum warmly, electrics shake down as slide melodies dance about and guitars generally bleed out in all the right places.
‘Highway Robber’ is a better sounding ‘Do Right By Your Woman’ remade as part Dick Turpin tale (it’s vaguely English folky), part ‘Ghost Riders In The Sky’ and with vocal backings calling out “Yippie Yie Yoo,” similar to Rory Gallager on ‘Out On The Western Plain’ – Leaving me contemplating that if Rogers had taken that Deep Purple offer back in the 70s, but Blackmoore still left and Gallagher (who was on their replacement wish-list) joined, then what magic the pairing could’ve delivered together. But the past is a different country, and this new release concludes with ‘Melting’, a number that begins with acoustic picked blues, slowly building to a powerful epic a third of the way in, with enough musical asides amid the power chords to raise the eyebrow. Rogers voice stirs, croons, enunciates and roars; retaining the mythology of his being a tough guy who may be going to hell but also someone firmly one step away from slipping back and falling into the inferno for a while longer yet.
Musically you can’t fault the performances, albeit its only with certain arrangements you take more considered notice. Rogers’ voice remains distinguished, though lyrically a little questionably obliquely Hawkish in places; there are some strongly delivered songs here that won’t look out of place amongst his well-established repertoire.
- Reviewed by Paul H Birch.
- Midnight Rose is released via Sun Records on 22nd September 2023.
- Official Website
- Coming Home
- Photo Shooter
- Midnight Rose
- Living It Up
- Dance in the Sun
- Take Love
- Highway Robber