Rival Sons

Rival Sons Showcase High Energy Riffs & Gritty Soul On Exceptional ‘Feral Roots’ (Album Review)

Rival Sons, a genuine rock and roll outfit hailing from Long Beach, California, are readying the release of their gritty and soulful sixth studio album, Feral Roots. This five-headed monster boasts the combined talents of Jay Buchanan (vocals/rhythm guitar), Scott Holiday (lead guitar), Michael Miley (drums), Dave Beste (bass) and secret weapon, Todd Ogren (keyboards). Celebrating ten years together, the Sons have hit upon many milestones in their young and prolific career. Since their first full-length release (2009’s Before The Fire), the band has been recognized around the globe as a force to be reckoned with in the studio and on the stage. 2011’s Pressure &Time hit the coveted No. 1 spot on Amazon’s Hard Rock Best Sellers list. They have supported some of the biggest names in the business on the road, including KISS, Aerosmith and most notably – the warm-up spot for Black Sabbath’s The End farewell tour in 2016. During that prestigious gig, the band was able to promote Hollow Bones – which became the band’s highest charting album in the U.S.

During the hiatus between touring, Buchanan and Holiday hid themselves away in a cabin for a week in Hoenwald, Tennessee to hash out ideas and write the core of the material for Roots. Once the two were satisfied with their efforts, they joined the rest of the band and long-time producer, the Grammy winning Dave Cobb, back in the studio to generate what would become their strongest and most cohesive album to date. Rival Sons are the first act to sign to Cobb’s Atlantic subsidiary, Low Country Sound – after amicably parting from Earache Records. Keeping with the band’s tradition, Roots was recorded live in Nashville, Tennessee’s own RCA Studio A and the legendary Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Sheffield, Alabama. Feral Roots, with its expansive, textured and glorious sound, drops this coming Friday, January 25.

Following continued reports, that vinyl is leading in sales over CDs and digital downloads, let’s break down FeraI Roots, as if you were planning on spinning the LP on your own trusty turntable at home.

Side A kicks off like a mule with “Do Your Worst”, which is both ear and eye-opening. It’s edgy and its underlying dark message within its lyrics, “Blind your eyes/Steal your tongue/He’ll take you when you’re old/But he likes ’em young” – is seriously unnerving. Combined with Holiday’s grating guitar, Buchanan’s soaring vocals, and an infectiously catchy chorus – “Worst” sets the tone of the album and will be a gem for crowd participation during the band’s live performances. “Sugar on the Bone” pummels the senses with an aggressive and unforgiving force from all fronts. “Back in the Woods” adds gasoline to the fire with Miley’s menacing triplet drum intro. The rest of the bands joins in with a continued show of musical-strength. “Woods” is a prime example of what could be described as the Sons’ signature sound. Backing vocals by Kristen Rogers and Whitney Coleman subtly caress the listener’s ears during this barn burner. Holiday’s acoustic guitar and Beste’s keyboard then weave a short, but captivating duet that provides a perfect lead-in to the dramatic and pointed “Look Away”. This last track on Side A, is a mesmerizing musical-ride that brilliantly shifts tempos and intensity.

Side B begins its revolution with the title track, “Feral Roots”. Buchanan’s haunting and beautiful vocals are hypnotic, and the lyrics are clearly very personal to him. Holiday’s handiwork provides an exquisite and cinematic canvas for Buchanan to paint a story with his words. Listen carefully to, “If the truth can be written then the truth can be hid/Those words are commanding you/Though your body may grow old/in your mind you must remain a kid”. When listening to new music, it’s easier to make comparisons to other bands than not. However the opening guitar lick in “Too Bad” could easily be taken as a not-so-subtle nod to Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi’s fretboard wizardry. For Holiday, watching and listening to the godfathers of heavy metal over the course of a world tour, must certainly have had a lasting impact – and how could he be faulted. Regardless, “Too Bad” and the Holiday/Iommi hybrid riffs are killer. “Stood By Me” has the Sons demonstrating some versatility by moving away from the power chords to a handful of retro-funk jazz chords and melodic bass-lines – possibly inspired by the spirits inhabiting Muscle Shoals, if it was recorded there. Backing vocals by Kristen Rogers and Whitney Coleman pop up again and add a joyful dynamic to the upbeat nugget. The late Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, would certainly adore this one. Miley and Beste keep the groove rollin’ on “Imperial Joy”. Its shuffle groove is infectious. “Joy” is a potpourri of musical-styles, packed into four minutes and nine seconds of audiological bliss.

Side C slides in with the humble and unassuming “All Directions”. Initial cascading acoustic guitar and Buchanan’s angelic vocals implore, “And I let go of what I cling to/reaching out with both of my hands/Lead me to the water and teach me/ what I don’t understand”, that soon connect in a mid-song head-on collision with the Fuzz Lord’s electric-magic and vocals backing vocals by Rogers and Coleman that channel that vintage Nick Drake gospel sound. The sorrow and regret-fueled “End of Forever” follows. “Forever”, with its robotic drumbeat, finds the Sons branching out to establish another facet to their ever-evolving repertoire. “Shooting Stars”, the last track on Side C, and on the album for that matter – opens with The Nashville Urban Choir. Their collective voices and the arrangement would have made Freddie Mercury and Queen envious. The gospel-style of engagement between Buchanan and the choir is beyond moving. The lyrics suggest finding strength in one’s self and rising above the enduring negativity that surround us each day. Its placement on the album provides a perfect foil to “Forever”. Also, with lyrics such as, “My love is stronger than your hate will ever be” – it couldn’t be more poignant in today’s social climate and a perfect way for Rival Sons to conclude their newest endeavor.

Rival Sons clearly brought their A game with Roots. Outside of Buchanan’s and Holiday’s backwoods writing session, the band only spent three weeks recording and mixing this extraordinary rock and roll record that seamlessly infuses the blues, gospel and soul with natural authenticity, making it worthy of a long, hard listen. The band has now clearly developed their own signature sound and style, not following trends or outside influences. Roots encapsulates the band and their music at this point. However, the only piece of the Rival Sons puzzle that is missing from Roots is the staple tear-jerker a la “Jordan” from Head Down, “Face Of Light” from Pressure and Time, “Where I’ve Been” from Great Western Valkyrie and “All I Want” from Hollow Bones. “Shooting Stars” does offer an emotionally inspiring track to take the place of the drama stirred-up by the aforementioned ballads. And so, with Feral Roots, Buchanan’s undeniable heavenly and unrelenting vocals alone, continue to be simply awe-inspiring. Blend that with Holiday’s uncanny and psychedelic, fuzz-faced riffs, Miley’s impeccable and ferocious drumming, Beste’s sly, artistic fretwork and Ogren’s throwback and wicked-tickling of the ivories, and that makes this band an obvious choice as a challenger for today’s greatest rock and roll band.

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