Coming of Age

By Paul Rigg

It’s been almost 10 years since Before the Fire, Rival Sons first album release, and since then the band have gone from strength to strength. In terms of quality, confidence and variety, Feral Roots certainly ranks up there with their outstanding Pressure and Time, and may even top it.  

For their sixth release, the Californian band have headed to the legendary
Muscle Shoals studios and teamed up again with producer Dave Cobb. Cobb’s work deserves to be acknowledged: he keeps the bluesy rock n roll sound tight while allowing both experimentation and ‘dirtiness’ to the sound. As a consequence the record is rich and smooth, but also feels raw and exciting.  

The album is the group’s first with Low Country Sound, which is owned by Atlantic Records. But in response to those who were concerned that this would perhaps commmercialize their sound, guitarist Scott Holiday said: “I believe that it offers some things that you’ll have heard before from the band and that probably you’d like to hear. It is more expansive, but you don’t have to worry that signing with Atlantic means that we have sold our souls. They allowed us to make the album that we wanted to make.”

And for guitar fans, the album they wanted to make puts the six string at front and centre of practically every track, with Holiday presumably taking maximum advantage of his favoured 1999 Gibson 1965 Firebird VII Reissue.

This is rarely clearer than on the barnstorming opening track Do Your Worst, which kicks off with a heavy sounding and addictively-vibrant guitar riff and closes with a solo. The song also has a big chorus with a valedictory chant that makes it a winner. This is followed by another heavy number featuring distorted guitar, a strong hook and Jay Buchanan’s soaring vocals, Sugar on the Bone; a song that is definitely going to see heavy repeat.

Back In The Woods
is followed by Look Away, another standout track on the album. This acoustic, folk-tinged, song provides further evidence that Rival Sons are not prepared to rest on their laurels, but are committed to innovation and experimentation. The powerful title track, Feral Roots, is next up and again highlights both acoustic and electric guitars and Buchanan’s impressive vocal range.

Stood By Me
provides a funky beat and an interesting lyric while Imperial Joy is more explicitly sexual in tone: “I shoulda gone to bed, but I stayed up too late, the things I like to do there keep me wide awake” sings Buchanan. The ballad All Directions represents another shift because of its moody atmosphere that later gives way to heavy rock guitar.  

The album closes with another surprise in the shape of Shooting Stars, as it contains impressive gospel choruses provided by the Nashville Urban Choir; it will be interesting to see how it is received by the band’s long-time fans.   

Feral Roots
is an outstanding album that offers both the traditional heavy fare along with some unexpected and welcome twists and turns. The band have been described as ‘the sons of Led Zeppelin’ for good reason but they are now definitively charting their own course. Feral Roots represents a clear step up for a band that has come of age.