By now established as one of the most distinctive sounding outfits on the English roots scene and known for delivering great live performance sets wherever they play, Roadhouse album releases are renowned for the film noir tinge of Gary Boner’s lyrics, sharp band playing and the interplay of main writer Boner’s gruff vocal delivery with that of his current chanteuses. I say ‘current’ because there are usually changes from record to record – however to say that a high standard of female singing is maintained would be an understatement. This time around we get to hear the rasping passion of Mandie G, the ever improving clarity and appeal of Kelly Marie Hobbs plus the knowing sexiness of Suzi D…any of these ladies would be an asset to a musical outfit but moreover they work well together.
Never to be overlooked or underrated, bassist Bill Hobley and drummer Roger Hunt provide a rock solid but nonetheless nimble backdrop to the songs. Apart from the Roadhouse live sets, the rhythm section lend their skills at live shows to guest artists, including yours truly.
Firmly rooted in US Southern rock for dynamic inspiration, the two-guitar arrangements display light and shade, a cloudborne airiness at times and a grinding metallic clout at others. The axes don’t blur out the vocals – Gary is not going to bury his own wordsmithery! The ace in the pack is the difference in the guitar styles of Boner and Danny Gwylim – the former having a classic Mick Ralphs style with biting buzzy soloing but the latter perhaps more of a Wishbone Ash style player, fluid and soaring and by no means a blues purist or rock obsessive. In fact Danny will happily take in anything you lend to him, if a Brad Paisley touch appears, blame me…..
Inside another classy cover design by band amigo Vaughan Oliver lurk more dark compositions. Fans of US rockers Drive By Truckers would be entranced with this material but bear in mind THIS group has been in existence over twenty years and delivering original numbers all that time.
Too Tired To Play has a purposeful attack and eerie slide to kick off the collection and a fine example of the vocal arrangement skills of this crew. Already alive classic, Rainmaker has a contagious country rock bounce and twanging key riff. Dark Angel is one of what Boner himself would tag a misery-incarnate piece but shows his saturnine leaning to great effect. Dig the arpeggio intro chords overlaid with a singing lead guitar line. So Over You has – if memory serves – a Kelly Hobbs lyric and a springheeled vibe to offset the hellbound atmosphere of several of the other compositions included here…wonder how Danny gets such a perfect Les Dudek sound on the guitar here ? ‘Play With Fire’ has Mandie G capturing a Stevie Nicks sound over guitar harmonics and pumping Hunt drumwork, a song with great impact and perhaps the one you would play to an acquaintance to illustrate the Roadhouse approach. CloserTelling Lies is a past triumph dusted off the for the present personnel.
For this writer the urgency and insistence of ‘Tornado’ make it the pick of this set but you, dear listener, will find plenty to savour on this album
Pete Sargeant www.fairhearing.co.uk