I’ve been a fan of Rival Sons ever since I stumbled across their tunes “Get What’s Coming” and “Pressure and Time” online a few years ago. In 2012 I promptly fell head over heels in love with their album Head Down, and in January 2013 I saw them live at The Roxy in Vancouver. That gig sealed the deal for me: this band is bonafide rock’n’roll magic.
Great Western Valkyrie keeps a lot of the vibe from Head Down: that heady mix of crunchy-riffy rock, rhythm and blues, blues, gospel, rock’n’roll revival glory, and a whole lot of soul (in every meaning of the word). The r&b and soul influences come through more strongly here than on previous albums, but Rival Sons has a masterful ability to use musical influences without submerging their own unique energy, always finding that sweet spot for their own groove and sound.
New bass player Dave Beste adds a gloriously solid and heavy backbone, while Michael Miley’s inspired drumming puts the right heartbeat into every tune (just listen to his fabulous chops on the excellent “Play The Fool”).
Scott Holiday’s scintillating (sometimes titillating) guitar-work continues to blow my mind, and so does Jay Buchanan’s voice – a voice that can only be described as a force of g-d-mn nature. Buchanan is a stunning vocalist, capable of both breathtaking force and heart-piercingly raw vulnerability. His vocal style is often more reminiscent of soul divas like Aretha Franklin, rather than any current rock singers (this was even more obvious when I saw the band live).
Great Western Valkyrie is a rich and deep album, with highlights including the sexy rock’n’roll fire starter “Electric Man”; the unholy, ur-rock riff-power of “Open My Eyes”; and the seductive, dance-inducing swing and gritty guitar of “Play The Fool”. There’s also the wounded tenderness of “Where I’ve Been”, and the straight-up r&b glow of “Good Things” with its bassy hook, and Buchanan’s vocals giving it a chilled-out Otis Redding flavour.
Other standouts are the throwback-heavy “Good Luck” (a deliciously upbeat goodbye-and-good-riddance-song), and the absolutely fab “Secret” with its fuzzy, dirty, grinding edge.
The trippy, psychedelia-shimmery “Belle Starr”, with flashes of The Who shining through its dreamy musical fabric, is a personal favourite of mine, as is the head-turning “Destination On Course”. “Destination On Course” starts off like a passionate slow-dance on a crowded dance floor at the end of a long night; and has a loose, in-the-moment vibe as though the band is playing right there by that very same dance floor. Then the tune shifts, twisting and turning itself into barely contained, yet beautifully executed mayhem: Buchanan’s voice almost cracking, an angel’s choir behind him, the heaviness of the bass and drums tugging at your senses, and always the guitar flowing through it all with a mind of its own.
Head Down has a special place in my heart because it was the album that made me fall in love with Rival Sons, but Great Western Valkyrie is another tour de force, and proof positive that this band is quite simply one of the best damn bands in the world right now.
- Electric Man
- Good Luck
- Play The Fool
- Good Things
- Open My Eyes
- Rich and the Poor
- Belle Starr
- Where I’ve Been
- Destination On Course
- Jay Buchanan — vocals
- Scott Holiday — guitar
- Dave Beste — bass guitar
- Michael Miley — drums
- Ikey Owens — keyboards
- Mike Webb — keyboards on “Where I’ve Been”
- Kristen Rogers — backing vocals