Snakecharmer is an excellent album by any measure. The songs snap to attention, Chris Ousey sings his ass off, guitarists Mick Moody and Laurie Wisefield sound even better than you'd guess, you suddenly realize how much of Whitesnake's signature sound came from Neil Murray's bass, Adam Wakeman sounds much closer to the Lord than his pop, and Harry James hits the traps with a commanding, cozy beat. In fact, this record is going to turn tons of heads and put plenty asses into seats when the band hits the road.
Chris Ousey may be the least known of this charming bunch, but it's largely due to his well weathered vocal chops that makes this record much more than a coattail follower. The last thing I wanted to hear here was a Coverdale clone, and while Ousey approaches nodding his hat to the past, this may be a matter of singing and writing songs with Moody and Murray more than any obvious attempt at giving the king snake his due. If, by chance, you heard the singer's 2011 solo debut, Rhyme & Reason, you'll know that he's his own man, and a fine, fine singer and songwriter. If forced to compare him to anyone, I'd say and earthier, edgier version of Mr. Big's Eric Martin, but that's only if forced. It takes a helluva voice to be heard over this glorious din, and Ousey makes himself a star with this outing.
Wisely avoiding any sense of cliche, the band is born with a nicely jangling, strummed acoustic and an unadorned vocal for its first verse, before the band jumps in and thickens things up. My Angel is a great introduction, and when you get to the bridge, you're going to be sold - what sounds like a rollicking hit single suddenly turns east and a beautiful and huge slab of synth sits wonderfully under Ousey's switch to a minor modality and it's over too soon, but not sadly, as it is replaced with one of the most majestic pieces of slide guitar I've heard in ages, only to melt into a sexy harmony duet between Moody and Wisefield before resolving into a snarling return to the final verse. An auspicious beginning, indeed.
Accident Prone is up next, and it's closer to the band's musical past, especially when you hear Neil Murray's pumping bass line - his bass marries a drum kit as well as any, and perhaps this was as much the key to Whitesnake's signature sound as the vocals and guitars. Ousey is given more to melody than the blues, and his voice is so distinct that again any comparisons are fairly senseless. The band produced this disc themselves, and the decades of experience are obvious - it's rich, organic, and I can't imagine that this is pretty near what the band will sound like on tour. The arrangements keep moving and never sound stale - the guitar solo is straight out of the early days of Bad Company (think Can't Get Enough), and will have you smiling from ear to ear. They haven't reinvented the wheel, but they've produced a damned fine one, and it rolls quite fabulously.
Falling Leaves is a classic piece of British hard rock balladry - the background vocals harken back to the days of Mott The Hoople, a bit of Queen, and this ends up being a pretty good road map to the pop majesty of the best of Def Leppard. My litmus test for records that harken back to the '70s and '80s is to through it on a shuffle with a couple of albums from that esteemed era, and I must say I did that, and Snakecharmer would have done quite well in any era. Oh yeah, and more sweet guitar solos.
Slow simmering is a specialty with the 'Charmers, and A Little Rock and Roll is a cool percolator. Bluesy melodic British rock - if you dig it, you'll dig it. The acoustic guitars make another appearance, prefacing a wobbly bit of Leslie-fied laid back picking that is taken over by a nice piece of wah-wah work. The ending gets expansive with huge keyboards, epic drumming, and more sumptuous guitars. They lay it on pretty thick, but that's how we like it.
Turn Of The Screw is a barrel house rocker - sounding a bit like Aerosmith when they still meant something. This may have fit well on Get Your Wings as the piano and guitars slip and slide underneath Ousey's wailing. Before things get to familiar some clever songwriting turns things around for a cool twist, and then there's more great guitaring - Wisefield and Moody sound like they have a blast playing together, and I'll take all they can deliver.
As melodic AOR goes, this is some stellar magic. You can tell with every beat, with every note that this bunch was there at the beginning. Stand Up is a classy number that makes me remember Foreigner's glory days, and Murray's heavily chorused fretless bass solo sections are great ear candy - this is another one that will come across great live. It is my hope these fellows find a way to make it onto a lot of stages in 2013, as this stuff all sounds like it was written for the stage.
Guilty As Charged - the riff sounds familiar, the organ provides the perfect perch, and they're off and running. One of the band's finest qualities is in knowing when to push, and when to pull - there's no ball hogging, and it's teamwork all the way. Ousey is excellent again, and while this may be the record's weakest cut, it still sits well in the rotation.
Cover Me In You is a standout track with which to wrap up the proceedings, and after an intro that will have you thinking Lizzy, but with a solid backbeat instead of Brian Downey's Irish swing, this covers a lot of familiar territory in the best sense - again, Snakecharmer is not Shakespeare but what they are is a charming and exuberant bunch of rock vets who know exactly what they are doing it.
Sankecharmer is a charmer - a much better album than I had even hoped for, and I hope this is just the beginning. This bunch appears to supply rock solid material in a very smooth and easy fashion, and I can only see them improving with experience and age, which is a hell of a thing to be saying about a band with well over a hundred years of combined experience under their belts, but I'm saying it. Everyone here is at the very tops of their games, and I hope this is only the beginning of a long engagement.