Paul Reed Smith
Photo: Hunter Selman

Paul Reed Smith and Eightlock Roar Like Lions Stuck in Quicksand

The flow of Paul Reed Smith’s LP resembles its namesake felines. The music starts loud, maybe not as noisily as a lion’s roar, but a savage joy is expressed.

Lions Roaring in Quicksand
Paul Reed Smith - Eightlock
Steele Records
1 December 2023

Guitarist Paul Reed Smith-Eightlock is an unusual combo. The band features three notable drummers from somewhat different fields, including jazz’s Dennis Chambers (John Scofield, John McLaughlin), soft rock’s Gregory Grainger (Whitney Houston, Acoustic Alchemy), and DC Go-Go’s Ju Ju Hop (Chuck Brown Band, Trevor Horn). Percussion is essential to the group’s sound, but that’s not all.

The combo also features three guitarists: the man whose name is above the combo’s on the album; Paul Reed Smith (Santana, Allman Brothers), who co-wrote the majority of the 14 tracks; Mike Ault (Rachelle Ferrell, David Grissom); and Bill Nelson. Bassist Gary Grainger (Nancy Wilson, George Duke) and vocalist Mia Samone-Davis are also prominently featured. Eightlock have a funky feel, especially on their cover of Al Green’s “Love and Happiness” and originals such as “Sarah” and “Never Give up on Livin'”. That stays true to a point when the act explores other genres.

Many of the songs have a slick sheen to them. The rough edges have been smoothed off. Much of this is due to Samone-Davis’s restrained singing. In songs like “Phoenix in My Blood”, which she co-wrote, the singer lets the notes stretch without raising the volume or intensity. The dispassionate impact suggests that Samone-Davis has conquered her demons. “I would kill you first if I could pull the trigger,” she croons with a wry sweetness in her voice. Being cool offers its own rewards, even if it is only a latent pleasure.

The more bluesy material, such as “Drivin’ at Night”, offers the guitarists a chance to show off. The three guitarists slash and burn in rhythm like old ZZ Top albums used to. The music pulsates to express a desire that may temporarily be unfulfilled but is expected to be resolved. The more psychedelic stuff, such as “Look at the Moon”, allows the guitarists greater freedom to survey sounds that may seem tangential to the melody. Those riffs keep the song interesting.

The three drummers provide a foundation for the artists to do their stuff. They provide sturdy tempos, allowing others to take the songs in different directions. This is positive to a point, but sometimes the music gets too static in tempo. The songs seem to get lost in themselves. Cuts such as “Echoes” and “He’s the One” seem claustrophobic. One gets stuck in the groove without much else happening. The sameness weakens the initial impact of the instrumentation. In addition, sometimes Samone-Davis’ vocals get lost in the sauce.

As a whole, the flow of Lions Roaring in Quicksand resembles its namesake felines. The music starts loud, maybe not as noisily as the roar of lions, but there is a savage joy expressed. The first few songs suggest the protagonists are ready for action. The middle tracks, which take up the bulk of the record, let the listener breathe, but like the jungle cat caught in a trap, one knows this won’t last. By the end, the lions have accepted their fate with a noble dignity. All they want is to be left alone. Now, this is a stretch and presumably not purposeful. The order of the tracks is more haphazard than I suggest. But there is a sense that one has been on a journey and has ended up stuck somewhere other than where one intended.

RATING 6 / 10