Ri­val Sons

Long Beach rock­ers’ sixth al­bum twists and turns and ul­ti­mately tri­umphs.

Classic Rock - - Album -


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.

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