April 14, 2015
Randy Bachman has hit another home run - after a few years of supporting his extremely successful career retrospective Every Song Tells A Story with his Vinyl Tap tours, his very successful Vinyl Tap radio show, and keeping the long running Bachman/Turner franchise alive, he's now unveiling yet another new trick with an explosive set of originals done in the guise of classic blues rock vein under the title, Heavy Blues.
This album is exactly how I happen to like my blues - Bachman has wrapped his heavy blues in a lot of great melody, a slamming rhythm section, down and dirty rhythm guitar tones (dare I say filthy?), and some screaming guitar solos from himself and a slate of bona fide six string superstars. Kevin Shirley's no frills, 'in your face' production works perfectly here, and in a move that is either brilliant serendipity or extremely shrewd and wonderful marketing, Bachman is joined on the record by a sexy couple of serious slammers in the way of drummer Dale Anne Brendon and bassist Anna Ruddick, who not only look great, but who also do a fair approximation of The Ox and The Loon. Make no bones about it, they are both fabulous players. Yeah, this is how I like my blues....
(My interview with Randy Bachman on Soundcloud)
Things come quickly into focus as the trio rips into 'The Edge' - there's no mistaking the homage paid to Bachman's pal Pete Townshend, whom he was sitting beside when they discovered that the drummer in the pit of a theatrical production of Tommy was actually not a lad, but a lass. Bachman tears off an unmistakeable piece of melodic lead playing over the crashing intro before turning things around with an equally recognizable voice that proceeds to tell the tale. It's like coming back home - this is all familiar, but it's a brash and powerful update. It's all here, and they pull it off with no sense of anything but pure joy. Bachman hasn't slowed down a single step - he's never sounded better.
Now we get straight into he list of co-conspirators, and could Bachman and Shirley have found a better first example than Scott Holiday, he of the next big thing Rival Sons? 'Ton Of Bricks' is a brilliant tune that's filled with a fountain of great and fluid guitars. Bachman has always been a great songwriter, and one of rock's best storytellers, and here he is absolutely on fire - as the rhythm section pummels, this metallic rocker jumps off the platter, and Holiday and Bachman sound like they are having a great time jousting with their respective instruments.
Next it's my erstwhile pal Joey 'Baby Bones' Bonamassa, and as usual he's best when he's in the room with equal talents and he's helping out a friend. Bachman has never sounded this aggressive and in your face, and I love it - Joe B brings his best liquid tones and notes, and his contribution is simply fantastic. He's one of the best rock guitarists on the planet when he wants to be, and I never get enough of his playing in this style. Randy writes one of his patented classic lines - and why did it take this long for someone to write, "I was so bad at being good, so good at being bad"? This lyric is chock full of cliches, and every one of them is perfect and sounds great in this context. Have I mentioned how much fun this album is yet? It's a gas. And it rocks pretty damned furiously.
Late last year I spoke with Randy about this record, and he offered me these quotes:
"Neil (Young) looked me dead in the eye, and he said, 'If you're gonna do a new album, don't do the same old shit and call it a new album."
"Kevin Shirley said to me, 'If I'm going to produce you, you have to promise me one thing. That you will do everything I say, you will not interfere, and you'll keep your mouth shut.'He listened to them both.
'Little Girl Lost' comes out of the gates stomping across the tundra like a Crazy Horse, and here comes Bachman's old friend from Canada, Neil Young, joining in on a vicious rocker that should serve as a primer for all the kids on how it is to be done. The guitars are huge, the tones are perfect, and the riff is a classic stomper. This is the rawest groove Bachman has ever laid down, dirty and greasy, and more than a little reminiscent (in a great way) of Billy F. Gibbons' most saturated Les Paul moments. When the solos come in it's game over, and done. If you don't absolutely love this, you're absolutely wrong. These two old pros show how it's done, and this is fun for the whole family.
Things stay down around the way of Texas for 'Learn To Fly', and Bachman's dirty guitars and Ruddick's brontosaurus bass ride high atop Brendon's solid back beat in the finest of fashions. I love that Bachman didn't play it safe and have his rhythm section play respectfully - no, they give as good as they get, and this never sounds like anything but a kick ass band.
Slippery slide jumps off the grooves next, and the familiar tones of sacred steeler Robert Randolph cuddle up nicely next to the wide groove and the gospel tinged choruses that have the perfect amount of female seasoning. Bachman sings like a man who's standing at the crossroads, and he's preaching a fine sermon. This record does not sound affected at any point, and it's a tremendous tribute to Randy Bachman in this day of half-hearted efforts and milking fans with past glories - this is some of the most inspired music this man has ever laid down. More great guitars, too. And, jungle toms. Love, love, love....
A Bo Diddley beat announces 'Confessin' To The Devil', and this cameo slot is filled with some carefully cut and pasted licks courtesy of the estate, and hands of the late Jeff Healey. This is another rifling riff that has no sheen, no gloss, just grit and grind. I'll admit to be blown away by the audacity of this project - I get a little afraid when a classic rock guitarist says anything about a blues album, but like I said before, this is exactly how I like my blues.
Peter Frampton - remember him? No, not the guy that went pop with I'm In You, no, this is the other Peter Frampton - the one who went head to head with Steve Marriott every night in Humble Pie. Well, he's here on 'Heavy Blues', and he's in a mood. That mood is translated through a black Les Paul Custom and a Marshall amp. Liquid, melodic, and edgy, he definitely went back in time for this one, and all I can hope is that sometime in the near future we see the man strap up like this on an album of his own. This is great hard rock - blues? Well, it's bluesy hard rock, but like I said.... Great, great stuff.
'Wild Texas Ride' is a fast one - they're throwing it down hard, and Bachman's fleet footed and fingered rhythm section pushes this one down the highway like the devil's on their tail. The bass tones on this record are just divine - thick, overdriven, and punchy, none of that fat mass of nothingness found on so many records of this ilk. Randy Bachman sounds like he spent some time in the woodshed before this one, and his solos and tightly honed harmonies are brilliantly executed. The tones are ferocious, and the licks are righteous.
A sleek and slinky syncopation defines 'Please Come To Paris', and it's funky grooves are joined by a cameo by a fellow that some have called Canada's best guitarist, Luke Doucet. This one is wrapped in women, French whisperings, and more sizzling rock.
Things finally slow down a bit for the set closing 'We Need To Talk'. It is actually close to a classic slow blues, but it's still a bit too melodic and sophisticated to be lumped in to that classification. This is just great songwriting, cool, cool playing, and a nice smooth but gravelly vocal. Bachman's guitar solo is fat, lyrical as the verses, and the very definition of tasty. Yeah, this is a nice way to wrap it up. I like happy endings, and here it is.
What a great surprise - I had no real idea what to expect from this one, and while I went in just a little afraid, I came out in love. This is one of the best albums of Bachman's career, and maybe even the best. Great cameos, great band, but more than anything, this is a great picture of the musician that is Randy Bachman - it's all warmly familiar, but he ups the ante and kicks down what will be one of the best of 2015.
Rock Ain't Near Dead, and warhorses like Randy Bachman are proving it. No matter how you look at it or slice it, this is an excellent, excellent album.