Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Red Zone Rider - A Great Beginning

Red Zone Rider's first album is a solid success - great playing, great singing, inspired songwriting, and much promise. It may even end up in my year end Top 10.

It's somewhat apropos that this album was produced by Northern California's original metal guru, Mike Varney for Magna Carta Records, because it brings to mind many memories of NorCal giants such as Montrose, early Journey, and Y&T. Soulful, bluesy hard rock can be found here in spades, and this album is a great combination of inspired writing and stellar performances. Kelly Keeling, Vinnie Moore, and Scot Coogan have collaborated to create an excellent first effort, and a fine platform from which to build - a super solid album that has even more promise in terms of what the future may hold.

Supergroup? Two albums from now, they just may be.... For now, this band is off to a helluva good start.

Hell No is the opener, and it's a blustery bit of funky hard blues that walks a great line between San Francisco soul and Brit rock. Kelly Keeling has been simmering for some time, and it would appear that he's finally ready. His singing is top shelf, and who knew he was a super slick, soulful bass man? Vinnie Moore mixes things up between clean funk riffs ala The James Gang and The Doobies (Yeah, the Doobies - they once rocked). If I placed this between an early Montrose album, a little Hughes era Deep Purple, and the first Santana albums and gave them all a listen, I'd definitely think these guys could be contenders.

Vinnie Moore is making the album he's always had in him as a hard rocker - he's not under the shadow of Schenker here, and while I certainly hear the residuals of a decade in UFO, but it would appear here that he's much more his own man here - Chops, tone, taste, he's got it all under his belt, and on By The Rainbow's End, both he and Keeling have made something better than what they've made in the past, whether it was in Schenker's band, or in his shadow.

House Of Light rolls out of the gate subtly quoting Pete Townshend, but it's quickly off into a rolling, swinging and swaying mid-tempo number that evokes a lot of what was good about middle period Brit rock. Keeling is a surprisingly effective soul singer and writer, and the band's on board to make this a cool number that stands on its own ground. These guys have put together a nice package - loads of melodic hooks, and ear candy moments.

They slow things down for the heavy blues of Cloud Of Dreams - Keeling is playing some nice organ here that meshes well with Moore's great semi-clean toned chops. Coogan is steady as a rock, evoking memories of the always heavy, always right for the song Cozy Powell. I don't know if this lot will ever play their first show, but if they don't it'll be a fucking shame. There's gold about to be found here, and this one? It'll be great if any of the elder English blues rock heavies ever hit this height again. Moore plays his best yet maybe on this track - he's got a wicked right hand dynamics things going on, and he's melodic as can be.

Good, explosive heavy funk rock is hard to find these days, but producer Varney seems to have a good handle on it, and Save It reminds us of why we once loved Whitesnake so much - soulful song craft, slippery slide guitars, and a bluesy backbeat that makes us dance, all of us. This is one of those records that sound like it may have been rough to make, but on subsequent listenings may make the makers smile. This has a purple heritage worn well.

Obvious features more of Keeling's excellent organ chops, and in the intro they rather liberally quote some old Gary Moore, but it's been long enough that it's just become a soothing homage - the song is another excellent piece of soul soaked blues rock. The songwriting here starts to take on a life of its own, and promises great things for the future while giving us a great buzz in the present. Lots of cool, fat chorused guitars from the other Moore, and this one is a clear cut winner.

The Hand That Feeds you sees the band riding down the PCH at full speed - Ronnie and Sammy would smile if they heard this one. When the B-section kicks in it's wonderfully melodic and compelling rock. A rolling thunder kind of beat moves things along, and Keeling is singing like a rock god - I've been waiting for product like this from this guy for some time, and he's delivered it in spades. This is great NorCal hard rock. Those who get that will know.

This band does swagger well, and that's always a good thing - plenty of funk fire on call. Hit The Road brings to mind some of my friend Hughes' back catalog, meaning it's really solid songwriting combined with funkified riffs from stem to stern. Melody never suffers on these forays into the funk and the sophistication is a breath of fresh air. Moore seems to have truly upped his game here as a soloist. He always had the chops, but here he's approaching some classic moves. Great work by the whole band on this.

Another organ filled rocker - There's A Knowing shows exactly what this band is made of. I kind of get the impression that they may not even be aware of how cool of a thing they have set in motion. Sometimes when music is created at a hurried pace, in the unsureness of a moment, only in retrospect can the sure beauty be seen. This is gorgeous - layered vocals, thick Hammond tone, and great guitars and drums. Fun, fun, fun.

Red Zone Rider have made their mark - let's all buy this record, and hope for more, and also, let's hope this bunch gets to play some shows and find out if they're really a band. I know they can be, but will they be? Give rock a chance.

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