[6 February 2008]
All in all, it would have to be said that 2007 was a pretty bad year overall for old-time rock-and-roll. Whether at the top of the food chain (Velvet Revolver) or within the pub-catering garage underworld (Josiah), this handful of bands and musicians dedicating their chops to partying like it’s twenty/thirty years ago just couldn’t get their hedonism and retro guitar tricks to gel from the right approach, no matter how hard they tried. Fortunately, 2008’s old school underbelly already looks like getting off to a promising start, and it’s largely due to one Atlantan quartet’s explosive debut.
Throwing back to the glory days of both Led Zeppelin and Lynyrd Skynyrd, StoneRider presents a solid, energetic throwback to ‘70s posturing on Three Legs of Trouble. Boasting production that is gritty enough to convince, but crystal-clear at the same time, the band have ample potential to tap into the hard rock market (Trustkill’s signing of the band is, in itself, a very smart move on their part). Matt Tanner’s pinched vocals, while empty of an identity like Robert Plant’s, are a lot more technically accomplished than many of his peers, and ring with whiskey-drenched character, suiting his lyrical themes of choice—mostly fast cars, booze, and women—perfectly well. Plus, he doesn’t sing it like he’s delivering a bad joke.
Take a look at some of the disc’s songs if you’re in doubt of their old-school devotion: “Rush Hour” opens the gates, more or less a summation of everything that StoneRider is about. A sputtering riff strangling itself over the neck of Neil Warren’s guitar kicks off, lifted straight out of Motorhead’s classic record Ace of Spades, loping along with a hard-tempo southern-flavored drive and DUI salutes to open highways. “Ramble Down” rides propulsively on the coattails of a Led Zeppelin groove a la “When the Levee Breaks”, rocksteady rhythms and a distorted cocktail from Warren, who really displays his flair here, setting up a harmonized, dirty blues chorus.
Gloriously excessive is the best way to describe the sleazy cock-rock of “Juice Man”, with an almost beyond-belief refrain no doubt left over from the group’s bar-band days: “Hard times and fast women / I’ve got the juice man and I’m still living / On the top of the edge of the world”. On the other hand, “Wildchild” pounds but is, at heart, a nostalgic ditty sung about a long-lost old girl he went out stealing Dad’s car with back when they were 17 (how old are the band anyway? 22 maybe?), bestially yelping in the chorus “Yeah she’s a WILDCHILD!” And then in Nazareth’s “Hair of the Dog”, he lets us know that we’re “messing with a son-of-a-bitch”, set to yet another fantastic classic rock riff.
Three Legs of Trouble is almost to rock in 2008 what Appetite to Destruction was back in 1988, and definitely the same sort of album: relentlessly catchy, punchy and revitalizing. It’s a record that languishes in a head-tapping, feel-good kind of way, with a guitar run through so much wah-wah pedal it sounds like a ravenous hyena. It’s not much more than a rollicking batch of songs, a spirited kick back to old-fashioned rock-and-roll, and there’s no good pretending it is. But the most important reason for StoneRider’s success is that they know how to involve their audience in their revelry. You have to assume that when Tanner talks of being “back from the dead” on the track with the same name, he’s speaking for the retro-rock trend on the whole. In which case, keep it up—just so long as your noise-making will back you up as reliably as this! Forward thinking is all well and good, but everyone needs to get in touch with their roots from time to time, so don’t be a purist and check this out. You might be surprised how much fun you have.