Southern Rock That Will Kick Your Butt and Break Your Heart
OH BOY, OH BOY, OH BOY! Have I been waiting to tell you about this doozy of an album!
This is another CD that arrived way before Christmas, therefore allowing me plenty of time to play it at leisure (and a few times for leisure alone and not as a review session) and the time has finally come to release it out into the wild.
As always we start with the opening track, and late one fateful November night I slipped the disc into the car stereo, not knowing what to expect and BANG…. I was instantly whisked back to the mid-1970’s and watching some hirsute band of bewhiskered ne’er do wells, invariably wearing flared jeans, baseball shirts, waistcoats and either Converse Chuck Taylor’s or Cowboy boots on the Whistle Test. At least one would be sporting a battered Stetson hat too……. you can’t even imagine how exciting and exotic such a sight was in my tiny mining village. And the music???? Southern Rock they called it; and it changed my life.
When you hear the staggering twin guitars, diesel powered bass n drums and Wes Baylis’s grizzled and chiselled voice on opening track All Of These Years, you too will have the dust blown from the last 40 odd years and you will be a teenager all over again.
For me this album has been as exciting as anything I heard way back when, with powerhouse songs like Blind Lover and Compared To a Soul both adding a 21st Century spark to a Classic sound that I thought had gone out of fashion years ago.
The band’s Country Roots come to the fore a couple of times too, with Anna Lee being a tight as a drum Bakersfield diversion and the dark instrumental Red River (The Fall of Jimmy Sutherland) will surely be the intro to any encores the band play on tour.
Just to show their combined versatility there’s a tearjerker of a Rock Ballad hidden away in the middle; Wherever You Are, and it could easily be the type of song to play out over the credits of some moody Crime thriller set in an edgy town somewhere in the Southern States and starring someone like Woody Harrelson or Sean Penn as the world weary cop or PI.
To ‘get’ where The Steel Woods are coming from there’s a hefty clue in the songs they’ve chose to cover and what they do to them; Sabbath’s Changes is virtually unrecognisable as an intense Country Soul ballad, yet Townes Van Zandt’s The Catfish Song becomes a sultry Roadhouse Boogie, and then the Allman’s Whipping Post gets slowed down to become a dirty sounding love song and Tom Petty’s Southern Accents which closes the album is now an epic Hymn to the South that will take your breath away.
Another cover came very close to being my Favourite Song here. The last couple of times I’ve heard Merle’s Are The Good Times Really Over? it’s sounded a bit dated and tiresome; but these guys give it a fresh lick of paint and oddly enough make it sound very apt for the US of A in 2019.
But, there are two self-penned songs that take that Merle’s ‘message’ and run hell for leather to the touchdown zone ……. Rock That Says My Name is the first time I’ve encountered Southern Gothic in the Rock scene; but this epic tale could be about the singer himself or the country he so obviously loves. An exceptional piece of songwriting, make no mistake.
The other is the title track Old News, which slows things down and takes the guys into singer-songwriter territory; but this gives the listener the opportunity to stop dancing and actual listen to their prescient words like:
” You can hate all the others because they hate you
They hate the thought of you hating them too
We could scream it all out ’til we’re red, white, or blue
But I’d hate to think that thinking is old news, old news”
“Let’s sing for Miss Liberty
And the crack in her bell
There’s a tear in Her eye
But her arm hasn’t fell
Yet the weight of her torch
Comes with blood that’s been spilled.”
Yep; Old News is by far my Favourite Song here and will undoubtedly become an anthem for their fans at every concert they ever play.
This is The Steel Woods second album and the band claim it to be nearer they sound they’ve always wanted to deliver…….. and they have done that quite admirably and with Class too; and you will think so too.