The return of Alice In Chains with vocalist and rhythm guitarist William DuVall in 2009 was a real highlight for me. Black Gives Way To Blue was a beautifully crafted release and their subsequent live shows were fabulous. 2013 saw The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, an underrated album which contains some solid heavy metal. However, in Rainier Fog, the band has surpassed their previous efforts by some margin. The duel singing of Duvall and Jerry Cantrell works magnificently, and at times it’s hard to establish where one finishes and the other starts. Cantrell is an undervalued vocalist; his mournful style fits the sound superbly. The One You Know opens the album, a rip-roaring track that flexes some AIC muscle, hard riffs and thumping rhythm section a plenty. Rainier Fog, a tribute to the Seattle music scene and a descriptor of the mist from Mount Rainier, a volcano that overlooks the Seattle-Tacoma metropolitan area follows; a powerful, emotional track full of soaring guitar.
Fly decelerates the rampant pace, acoustic style pitched elegantly to allow Duvall’s vocals to lead, whilst Cantrell provides some sublime lead guitar work.
Partially recorded at Studio X in Seattle, where Alice In Chains, the last work with Layne Staley was made in 1995, and with Nick Raskulinecz at the helm for the third time, Rainier Fog is a polished piece of work, yet retains the heaviness that has always set AIC apart from many of their peers in the Grunge scene. The slab dragging heavy Drone sees former Queensryche guitarist Chris DeGarmo make an appearance on acoustic guitar, transporting the listener back to their 1990s prime. This continues with So Far Under, another crushing piece. Never Fade, a driving piece of hard rock, is a tribute to Duvall’s Grandmother, but also references Staley and the late Chris Cornell. The album closes with the epic All I Am, a seven-minute track which allows Cantrell, Duvall, Sean Kinney and Mike Inez to close the album in superb style, the Zeppelin-esque elements demonstrating the quality of a band which has nothing to prove. Rainier Fog is a superb release, certainly the best album with Duvall and a contender for top ten. 9/10
Monster Truck: True Rockers (Mascot Records)
As a live force, Canadian quartet Monster Truck have few equals. Their rampant set in the pouring rain at 2017’s Steelhouse Festival was a highlight and the band riff hard and loud at every opportunity. True Rockers is their third album, following 2016’s Sittin’ Heavy and it is a solid, heavy rock album that gets the head nodding and the foot tapping. Anthemic songs from start to finish, there is little subtlety involved here; it’s heads down riffarama with Brandon Bliss adding huge chunks of Hammond organ and keyboards to provide melody and appropriate layers. Dee Snider drops in on the opening title track, a true fist pumper, and the pace rarely slows.
Chanting the chorus is a key element of the Monster Truck delivery, evidenced on Thundertruck and the Shinedown style Evolution. Totally suited to the Black Stone Cherry crowd, it’s no surprise that these guys are part of the American rockers UK tour later this year. Jon Harvey’s vocals remain gritty but full of warmth, whilst the guitar work of Jeremy Widerman once again is comfortably ensconced within the overall Monster Truck sound. A bit of the blues sneaks in from time to time; the soulful Devil Don’t Care being the obvious standout tune. If you fancy some clean, routine but thoroughly enjoyable hard rock, check out True Rockers. 7/10
The Magpie Salute: High Water I (Provogue Records)
Rich Robinson is undoubtedly a legend; the guitarist with one of the most incredible and incendiary bands of all time, The Black Crowes, who shifted over 30 million albums during their career. Having finally split for good with brother Chris in 2015, Robinson put together the first collective The Magpie Salute for a one-off gig in 2016. The band, with ten members in all, eventually played many more gigs, delivering a range of covers, Black Crowes tracks and the odd original tune. The band has now slimmed to a six-piece, featuring former Crowes Marc Ford on guitar and bassist Sven Pipien, alongside Matt Slocum on keyboards, drummer Joe Magistro and vocalist John Hogg. High Water I is the debut studio release and it is a sublime piece of Americana, mixing blues, rock, Southern swagger and all stations in between. 48 minutes which contains commentary on modern politics, broken relationships and anger at the way the banking world rules everything.
Hogg’s drawl is perfect, whilst the guitar work is understated, subtle and magnificent. Take It All combines some stunning slide work and Slocum’s organic keyboard work; the title track is stunning whilst Colourblind looks at Hogg’s upbringing in London, being of mixed race origin. There is the obvious Crowes edge on the guitar work, whilst there is plenty of Tom Petty evident on Walk On Water. The countryside is not neglected with You Found Me demonstrating where The Temperance Movement’s draw their influences from. This is an album that becomes more delightful with every play. The band has recently announced dates in the UK in December. That should be a beautiful occasion. 8/10
Federal Charm: Passenger (Wire-Sound)
The third album from Federal Charm, a four-piece from Manchester, Passenger is a delicate yet robust release that follows the quality of Rival Sons in every way. Soaked blues with a delta style, Federal Charm sway and swagger their way through 11 tracks which are thoroughly absorbing. New vocalist Tom Guyer has a smashing voice, moderating his style to suit each track. First single Choke, the bombastic Can’t Rule Me and the stomping Swing Sinner which kicks the album off all allow Guyer time to show his quality. Guitarist and founder member Paul Bowe uses deliciously licks to enhance the tracks, adding layers to some of the light touch keyboard work. Federal Charm are co-headlining a UK tour in a few weeks with The Bad Flowers and Those Damn Crows. If you enjoy some quality 70s tinged rock, with the fusion of Zeppelin, Free and bad Company then you will appreciate Passenger. 8/10