Review: California Breed takes classic rock to a whole new place
There’s a self-titled debut album coming out tomorrow (May 20) by a “new” band called California Breed featuring a couple of masters of the music world, the “Voice of Rock” Glenn Hughes (vocals, bass) and the apple-doesn’t-fall-far-from-the-tree Jason Bonham (drums) plus a young and talented guitarist (soon-to-be guitar hero) Andrew Watt. It will take you back, not because it’s necessarily nostalgic or because it sounds like anything you might have heard before, but because it’s straight-up, no-holds-barred, rock ‘n roll. There’s a recognizable vibe here, one that remains consistent throughout the record, a bunch of groove-laden heavy tracks that sound like they were recorded in your mother’s garage.
Maybe that’s why it sounds and feels so – familiar – say, like your most comfortable pair of jeans, ripped in just the right places.
Did I mention the groove? It's those grooves that melt in your mouth, lingering at tip of your tongue, on occasion sticking around for awhile because of a particular rhythm or riff – or even lyric, sometimes tasting bitter, sometimes sweet and at other times burning your palate until it hurts a little. It’s that perfect blend of pain and pleasure that just works. That sound – garage band meets vocal perfection, guitar grungy at times, heavy, hard, and still groovy – it’s their sound, and it’s a sound that shows they aren't afraid to play it their way, letting the chips fall where they may.
Drummer Jason Bonham, the son of the late, great John Bonham of Led Zeppelin, has developed his own style in his years behind the kit. His previous work with Hughes led to this collaboration (which Bonham has called his “best work yet”), and although the record hardly references the recently disassembled Black Country Communion, there are – very few, but they are there – bits and pieces of the old band lying around on this record. Bonham’s best work is highlighted on the track “Midnight Oil”, which opens with a drum-driven intro to what can only be described as an inferno of a song.
Glenn Hughes – the “Voice of Rock” – is as flawless as ever. His voice, as exquisitely powerful as it is, truly shines on the track, “All Falls Down”. The music pulls on heartstrings as well as guitar strings, delving deep into raw emotion, both musically and lyrically with an almost melancholy barrage of lyrics that take you through a range of emotions. The song is huge, both because it transcends Black Country Communion and because it moves you like no other track on this album.
Overall, the arrangements are big and bad, the lyrics intense, and the sound loud, garage-band meets a range of rock influence. You may – like I did – hear a bit of everything on this record, from the Beatles and the Rolling Stones to Led Zeppelin to 90s grunge and even a bit of psychedelic play.
Kicking off with the raucous opener, "The Way" is a barrage of guitars and punch that pulls you straight in, only to be followed by the first single, "Sweet Tea," a song that will slither around on the tip of your tongue for the rest of the day. It's got that swagger and groove that gets inside your head and swims around for awhile.
The kid playing guitar, Andrew Watt, is fierce - at least as fierce as Jason is behind his drum kit - on the single "Midnight Oil", a song that yields dramatic guitar solos, killer vocals that stretch out like magic, and background vocalists to create a harmony that pulls it all together flawlessly.
Covering a stratosphere of genres, the band manages to hit on some punk elements in the song, "The Grey". The song has moments that make you want to jump up and down and yet it slows down at all the right moments. This one is a planned single/video and we can see why it was chosen.
"Days They Come" asks "do you want to stay? do you want to go?" and we definitely find ourselves wanting to stay, because this is where "the voice of rock" pushes his voice ever higher.
There's even some acoustic guitar play in the songs "Strong" and "Breathe." It might seem like it wouldn't fit in with such a fiery record, but the rhythm and vocals are rightly aligned with the rest of the tracks that surround them.
Each song was recorded live and that is perhaps why we find ourselves thinking that we've been transported into someone's garage, hearing the songs as they were played in the studio. It's a sound we haven't heard in awhile, and this is where producer Dave Cobb steps in to make it sound like it was left alone, and it was. There are very few overdubs on this record.
The result is the sound of a tailpipe without too much muffler, and that sound that rumbles from the headers is one that you'll want to play again and again until it reaches deep into your soul.