Million $ Reload is a phrase that comes from the card game Texas Hold 'Em - it's a mythical situation that would guarantee a win at every turn. It turns out that rock and roll is just as 'mythical.' If there was anything right in this old world you'd already know M$R. However, after releasing Anthems for a Degeneration in 2008, an album hailed in some quarters as being "the best hard rock debut since G&R's Appetite For Destruction", M$R disappeared from international radar having barely set foot in America.
"Well, we had a little problem with our label going under, but now we're back on track," says lead singer/songwriter Phil Conalane, with more than a bit of humble good nature.
"We don't work real hard at it, we just try to do what comes natural to us," Conalane elaborates, "We generally just get in a room and knock the songs together."
He makes it sound as if great riffs and hummable melodies grew on trees, and he and his band mates casually pick them at will. And maybe they do - a listen to either of the band's two long players will convince you that they are indeed gifted in the rarest of ways. Hard rock bands come about a buck a dozen these days, and to be honest, I cringe when I see most of them coming, so it is an honor and a thrill to hear records that genuinely excite me. I've been listening to hard rock for 40 years now, and when I tell Phil that A Sinner's Saint sounds four decades old, I mean it in the best sense. If you play this record between AC/DC's Highway To Hell and Def Leppard's On Through The Night you'll get what I am saying. It doesn't shrink a bit, and it fits perfectly in the pantheon of great hard rock.
Produced by Neal Caulderwood (The Answer, The Almighty), A Sinner's Saint is a classic straight ahead rock record. The guitars are brash and in your face, but they never swallow up the vocals. There are loads of quality guitar parts from stem to stern - Andy Mackle and Brian Mallon toss things back and forth as if they've been playing together for ages. I asked Conalane if as lead singer and main songwriter it was much of a task to sort out having two great players in the same outfit?
Conalane, "No, not at all. We aren't really an ego driven band - we tend to work things out together and try to do what best serves the song."
Serve the songs they do - this bunch sounds as if they've been gigging since the cradle. One of the things that I love about the album is that it sounds very organic. It never sounds contrived or forced. Conalane has the voice of the ages, as timeless as they come. To hear him tell it, it comes as natural as rolling out of bed in the morning (though he's sounds like his mornings might begin about early evening). I don't really think the guy has any idea just how rare and difficult is the art of really good hard rock. As I said, over the last twenty years I've come to rue the appearance of a bunch of unruly haired, tattooed wannabes with Marshall stacks, but this bunch has eased my jaded soul, and for that I am greatly appreciative.
Conalane, "Aw, c'mon, man. You must get loads of great records to listen to all the time, right?"
I told him that I sure wished that were true, but really, I hear about two, or three albums a month that really make me smile, and for one of them to be a straight ahead hard rock record is a true rarity.
"All we ever wanted to do was right proper frickin' rock songs. Songs that people could relate to and make rock fans say, 'Here's a rock and roll band playing genuine rock and roll with no bullshit and no frills, and they're having a blast doing it!' That's all we want to do, write and perform kick ass rock and roll and stick to our principles. We're not trying to reinvent the wheel. The bottom line for us is that a good song is a good song. Isn't that what it's all about?" Phil Conalane.
The best thing for you to do would be to plonk down a few bucks for both of the band's records, and get hip to one of the finest hard rock outfits on the planet. They should not stay 'little known' to American ears for long - they've played Download three times, appeared at Donington, Hard Rock Hell, and loads of European gigs while waiting for a place for their records to call home, which they've now done by connecting with Frontiers. There's two albums worth of hard rocking that will prime your pump until they can make it to a town near you.
Most days I'm a bit wordier, but I'm going to follow the lead of my Irish brothers-in-rock, and let the music do the talking. If you give it a taste, you're most likely going to order up a full helping.
Thanks to Million $ Reload, Phil Conalane, Frontiers Records, and Dustin Hardman