Long Beach rockers’ sixth album twists and turns and ultimately triumphs.
FERAL ROOTS LOW COUNTRY SOUND/ATLANTIC
You’re 10 years into your career. The world, which has moved steadily away from the high-class rock’n’roll you hold dear, suddenly shifts as four Led Zep-alike kids appear and do gangbusters out of nowhere. What do you do? If you’re Scott Holiday and Jay Buchanan, you decamp to a shack in Northern Tennessee and plot the album that just might make you.
When it comes down to it, the phrase
‘it’s a grower’ can be a polite code for ‘it’s a bit shit’. It’s like the scene in Friends when Monica describes Rachel’s new nanny as “attractive in an obvious way”, and Ross says: “Yeah, obvious beauty’s the worst… Me, I like to have to work to find someone attractive. Makes me feel like I earned it.” And who wants to ‘earn’ affection for a record? It’s rock’n’roll, not War And Peace.
However, there are times when a slowburn style is what makes an album special. To use a booze-based analogy, if Pressure And Time was Rival Sons’ tequila shot and Great Western Valkyrie the serious bourbon, then Feral Roots is the fine wine – intriguing from the get go, with certain rock tropes that grab you by the throat while others materialise tantalisingly. That said, opener Do You Worst gets down to business instantly with a juddering ‘na-nana-na-na-nah!’ juggernaut of a riff. Straight in, no kissing – you can practically hear Greta Van Fleet gulp nervously. Tracks like Back In The Woods put the ‘feral’ in Feral Roots, with Buchanan’s raw soul-blues cry hitting possessed-preacher highs and drummer Michael Miley on thunderous form.
But it’s the brooding mix of urgent and mysterious tones that really pulls you in, and gives the whole album an almost cinematic quality. The Zeppelin-esque title track is a stunning embodiment of this, its acoustic lines of folky mystique trickling out before bursting into a commanding, full-on rock chorus. Tracks that seem to be one thing have a way of surprising you (see the gorgeous chorus gear shift of Imperial Joy). Gospel backing singers appear across the record, and the soulful sway of Stood By Me merges old-school blues-andsoul warmth with Isley Brothers-infused guitar blasts.
Feral Roots isn’t Rival Sons’ most instant album yet; this isn’t a record of tracks like Keep On Swinging and Open My Eyes. It’s partly that, but it’s also an album of depth and impact that merits luxuriant poring over. And perhaps most significantly, it’s the sound of 2019’s answer to Page and Plant throwing down the gauntlet, daring the competition to make their moves. Bring it on.