Review: L.A.’s Rival Sons bring back the swagger of the rock gods with ‘Pressure and Time’
By Eleni P. Austin
Do you miss the swaggering rock gods of the late ’60s and early’70s, when bands like Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, the Doors and Aerosmith roamed the earth?
In this era of passive/aggressive love songs by Gotye and dumbed-down party anthems by LMFAO, I assumed the rebellious age of rock had come and gone. Then I heard the Rival Sons.
Rival Sons formed in late 2008 in Long Beach. Guitarist Scott Holiday, Robin Everhart on bass and drummer Michael Miley had gigged around Los Angeles for years, but their sound didn’t coalesce until they hooked up with singer Jay Buchanan.
The band quickly put together their first effort, Before the Fire (available digitally) and hit the road in Europe. Almost immediately, Rival Sons made waves while opening for rock veterans like Kiss, Alice Cooper and AC/DC. They were promptly signed by Earache Records.
Relentless touring honed the band’s chops, and by the beginning of 2011, they were ready to record their sophomore effort, Pressure and Time. It is rare to have a band write an entire album during the recording process, yet that’s exactly what Rival Sons did, with the help of producer Dave Cobb. The result is one of the most exciting albums I have ever heard in a while.
This is a rock ’n’ roll manifesto that pays homage to such disparate influences as Elmore James, Eric Burdon, The Who, and The Sweet, all the while maintaining a 21st-century sound.
“All Over the Road” is a rollicking start, with Miley’s walloping drum pattern connecting with Holiday’s staccato guitar riffs. Buchanan sets the randy tone with lines like, “So pull up your dress; I’m going to show you how the West was won!” On “Young Love,” the melody and Buchanan’s vocal stylings recall the bluesy grit of Eric Burdon and the Animals.
Everhart anchors the bottom of the title track with taut precision. This allows Holiday to blast over the top of the melody with rapid-fire machine-gun riffs. Buchanan’s lyrics yearn for a little equality: “Take me out of this mudslide of never enough / Let me eat from the fruit right off of the tree / When God gets his rest because six days are just too tough / I can only pray He doesn’t forget about me.”
“Only One” and “Gypsy Heart” owe a debt to Bad Company. The former is a straight-ahead love ballad, wherein Buchanan pledges undying fealty to his lady love. The latter takes the opposite tack, warning a potential one-night stand: “Sun comes up on another day / Thank you for the kisses but I’ve got to get on my way.”
The best track is “Burn Down Los Angeles.” Miley’s bludgeoning beat kicks things off before Everhart’s bass locks in, making way for Holiday’s supersonic licks to blaze through. Buchanan’s powerful vocals recount the frustration of trying to make it in the music industry: “I come for revenge for my broken dreams / I didn’t come to wait tables and park limousines / I’m gonna burn down Los Angeles.”
“Save Me” is a blitzkrieg that recalls the ’70s glam of The Sweet—but then the song makes a dizzying 180 and concludes with Miley pounding his kit like the late great Keith Moon.
With its modal guitars and Middle Eastern time signatures, “White Noise” echoes the Yardbirds during the Jeff Beck era. But the lyrics are a rather pointed commentary on modern technology: “There’s a message coming to me when my cellphone rings, to remind me that I’m never alone / They say the radiation will kill me eventually, along with every machine that I own.”
Pressure and Time closes with the thoughtful and poignant ballad “Face of Light.” It’s a perfectly mellow finale to this rollercoaster ride.
Yes, Rival Sons’ sound evokes the Golden Gods of classic rock, but never in a derivative or calculating manner. Rival Sons have soul!