Black Star Riders have pulled it off. They've made an excellent record, created an identity for themselves, been true to Phil's legacy, and managed to not piss me off. I didn't think they'd piss me off, nor do I imagine that they'd worry much if they did - but here's what I said about this record's prospects back in 2011:
"What about a new Thin Lizzy record?
"Now this is a whole other can of worms, and it's where I have some serious concerns. This is a tough call. I do believe that the band has every right to record new music, and to release it under the Thin Lizzy name. However, to release new music under that name is a huge responsibility, and has not been done since Phil died. That being said, it would be very ballsy, as no one currently in the band has released any original music that is even close to the standard set by Lynott. It would come with a tremendous amount of pressure, and a dim view from a great many music fans. Personally, I would love to see them try it. Send Warwick back to Scotland for a couple of months, with nothing but pen, paper, and a busman's wages. Take some of the dough that's been made on these recent tours, and hire a ball busting producer who loves the legacy. Then make the best Thin Lizzy album that can be made. If at the end, it isn't up to snuff? Bury it. Deep."
Turns out they did me one better - they made a great record and managed to do it in the best way, with a new name, and a new beginning.
The mindset I entered when I put the record on was to imagine that this lineup had released this record a year after Thunder and Lightning came out in 1983 with a few lineup changes - Lizzy replaced guitar players with some regularity, so this would just be a slightly larger realignment. And if this had happened, and Ricky Warwick had been Phil's replacement then, I'd have not been overly sad. There's no replacing Lynott, but Warwick's his own man, and he's done a great fucking job here.
Scott Gorham has done well. He's always made sure that the legacy of Thin Lizzy has been respected, and no one has ever left a show disappointed when that moniker was on the marquee.
Damon Johnson - I hope you are grinning from ear to ear. Johnson is the latest of a very long line of amazing lead guitarists who have partnered up with Gorham to create the signature sound, and he has nailed it - his writing and playing are certainly in the spirit of the past, but he plays himself, and he stands as the next guy to follow Sykes, Robertson, Moore, and Bell, not a guy who is copying them. He's done a great job, and hats off to him.
Jimmy DeGrasso brings glory and while he doesn't try to copy Brian Downey's sense of swing, he does well doing his own thing, and when you hear his playing on Before The War, you'll so dig it. His playing is superb, filled with great fills and imaginative parts.
I'll wrap up fawning over the players by praising Marco Mendoza - he shines most brightly on the set closing Blues Ain't So Bad, but he does the same stellar work he always provides. Listen close, and be blown away with great frequency.
All Hell Breaks Loose is the opener, as well as the title tune, and it displays the update of the sound rather well. Warwick's a story teller, and he weaves his tale with great skill. This has bigger, brasher chords than a Lizzy classic would, and they fit fantastically. Johnson plays some great rhythms that compliment Gorham's signature comping really well throughout the tune. Musically it's more glam than the past, and the words may actually be closer to Springsteen than Lynott, but that's no put down. Truth is, it sounds like Ricky Warwick.
Now, Bound For Glory? Well, it's straight up Lizzy, but again, if this was 1984, I would not be pissed. If anything, I wish they had layered up the background vocals a bit more, but that's nitpicking on my part. When the guitars go into the solo, you'll dig Gorham and Johnson doing a bit of a reinvention and introducing a few new dance steps. Good stuff, if you don't dig this? I really don't know what to say.
'Caveman' Kevin Shirley earns his wage on Kingdom of the Lost, taking the band back to the very early days - I don't know that the legacy ever got this close to Ireland once Moore left the band. It's derivative as hell, but that's what Irish rock does - it transports us back to Ireland, and this does it well. This actually does sound more like Moore than Lynott, but the apple falls not far, right? Shirley does a fine job - everything is right where you want it, and it sounds like he got what went down in his usual fine fashion.
Bloodshot is another tune that updates the sound - Mendoza blazes some great basslines, which yeah, I wish were a bit louder in the mix, but damn these guitars sure sound great. This is a great band that Gorham's joined/built! The open, string skipping intro is a beautiful marriage between classic Lizzy and maybe a more Americanized hard rock that absolutely smokes, and works quite well.
Continuing the modernization project, Kissin' The Ground sounds like what might have happened if things had ended differently and Lynott had ended up in a band with Slash and The Clash. Put that in your pipe and smoke on it for a while. I'm playing around with these comparison things for fun and to make it easy, but this is just great rock at the end of the day.
Ricky Warwick takes the bull by the horns on Hey Judas, and if his doesn't win you over, nothing will. The guy sings his ass off, and writes better than he sings. I can't wait to see this guy get the chance to sing his own words over this band before the loyal - it's going to kick some ass. Gorham and Johnson are great on this one, tighter than a gnat's ass, as I once heard it put.
Hoodoo Voodoo is maybe the least Lizzy tune here, and it helps me solidify in my mind what this band sounds like on its own - even the guitar harmonies are of a fairly new breed, with Mssrs. G and J going a bit more linear, and less patterned - a nice variation to the theme. Again, Mendoza is playing his ass off, and I'm thrilled when he and DeGrasso lock together, and throw it down.
More cool hard rock appears on Valley Of The Stones, and it's more G&R than anything from the seventies, and that's a cool thing, as this is 2013 and if these guys had spent too much time in the past, it wouldn't work - the guitar harmonies are more Iron Maiden than Lizzy, and while this isn't the album's strongest cut, it's still much better than you're likely to hear on many others' records.
Someday Salvation is pretty classic Lizzy with a bit of pop and polish added - again, if this was just the next TL record in '84, I'd be one buzzed kid, especially digging the sha-na-nas. I cannot imagine any Phil fan not loving this. We can't have the man, but this is a great furthering of his brainchild.
The record's coolest exhibition of their collective skills may be on the epic Before The War - this one follows in the footsteps of The Warrior, and The Emerald as Irish rock classics. Everyone is firing on all cylinders and rock ain't near dead in 2013. Damon Johnson steps up once again, and throws down some wicked licks, and Gorham does the magic he's always done - maybe hard rock's best rhythm man?
This album is not nearly as much Thin Lizzy tribute as one may have imagined - no track proves it better than the set closing Blues Ain't So Bad. This has a swing that is brand new, and the chimed harmonics slither by pleasingly, as Mendoza cuts a groove so deep you can see the very bottom. Huge power chords explode out, and the tale is dealt by Warwick with a very effective under-vocal that I don't know who provided, but it's a great addition to the arrangement. What a great ending to an excellent album.
There are those who will still bitch, and carp, but this is a really fine hard rock record - one that makes peace with the past, and forges forward. I can't imagine how this bunch and producer Kevin Shirley could have done any better. They nailed it, and I dig it. I really can't imagine you not loving this record after a few spins.