Friday, October 24, 2014

California Breed - album review

Once upon a time, there was a supergroup called Black Country Communion.  At 3 albums, their life was probably a lot longer than the average, but inevitably they had a big fight and split up, just like all good (and bad) supergroups do.  

Anyway, bassist/singer Glenn Hughes (who has played in almost every 70's-era metal band ever) and drummer Jason Bonham (son of THAT Bonham, and occasional member of recent Led Zeppelin reunions) decided they could probably still make some good music, even without blues guitar whiz Joe Bonamassa and keyboardist Derek Sherinian (ex-Dream Theater, no, not the weird bald one, the  other one from ages ago).

So they did exactly what you would expect two rock veterans to do (Bonham is 48 and Hughes is 62), and started a new band with a 23-year old guitarist by the name of Andrew Watt that no-one had ever heard of, other than Julian Lennon (yes, son of THAT Lennon) who made the introduction.

That band was called California Breed and so is their debut album.

I'll be honest, I was pretty sold after about 30 seconds of opening track The Way.  It begins with a monolithic funk-rock riff, and Hughes sounding in ridiculously powerful form on the mic - and then escalates from there.  There's this fun, insidiously catchy 'whooooa ohhh ohhh' style bridge section and then Hughes goes really, really ballistic - the line at 2:27 is delivered with unbelievably fierce power and control and never fails to send a chill down my spine.  

Seriously, the guy is 62, for goodness' sake.  And yet his vocals are an absolute highlight throughout this album.  He somehow manages to combine the power you expect from a great rock singer with the soul you'd expect from, well, a great soul singer.  As good as he sounded on the Black Country Communion - he's even better here. This is career-best form from one of rock's great vocalists.

However, what is arguably more impressive is the guitar performance of Andrew Watt.  The risk of having a young guy like him alongside two giants like Hughes and Bonham is that either he just can't foot it with them, or that he ends up overplaying to compensate.  In fact, he does neither of these things.  The solo on cruisy ballad All Falls Down is a shining example - Watt delivers it with a ton of soul, a few sneaky hints that he can shred with the best, and a closing note that gives you the same sort of chills as Hughes vocals.

The album is probably best described as hard rock with some classic influences - although there's noticeably more of a modern feel than on the BCC albums.  Think big, driving riffs, Bonham hitting the drums pretty hard, but with some nice melodic contrasts in there too as well as the funk influences that Hughes has toyed with from time to time.

It's not all quite as good as that beast of an opening track, but it is pretty consistent and balanced throughout, with other highlights including the Bonham-powered groove of Midnight Oil, the back-home boogie of Spit You Out, and the 1-2 closing punch of Scars and Breathe.

They might only be good for one album given the average longevity of supergroups, but they've certainly made that album a very worthwhile one. Although, given Bonham has recently left due to scheduling issues, and has been replaced by former Queens of the Stone Age drummer Joey Castillo, there's an argument that the supergroup tag no longer applies.  Either way, long may California Breed rock. 

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