Toxic Arrow [Release date 19.08.13]
Reuben Archer has been around the block enough times to know every doorhole, boozer and bookie by heart. The current (and previous) vocalist with hard rockers Stampede is also fronting up the Paul Raymond Project and has had stints with Lautrec, Wild Horses and Lionheart.
This, remarkably, is his first solo album. It pulls together strands of all his previous bands without replicating the sounds. Here, Archer has collected together all his musical buddies and delivered a high quality rock album with strong melodic and hard rock influences, propelled by a big, clean and accessible production strategy.
The opener ‘Bulletproof’ is neat showcase for the whole collection: a classic rocker with a monster vocal hook, fat riff and cute melodies spliced with a mid-paced and perfectly delivered instrumental section.
What Reuben and his mates do so well is to pool their not inconsiderable talent to lift the album way above the average. Well-written tracks are boosted with sharp arrangements, subtle harmonies, and unexpected changes of pace spiked with keyboard, hammond, sax, harmonica and various sound effects.
For instance the megaphonic distortions for the vocal on ‘Play My Rock n Roll’ give a wonderfully dirty, sleazy growl that crawls all over a riff lower than a snake’s belly. A standout track.
Archer’s ear for a classic rocker is re-inforced here. ‘TV Junkie’ and album closer ‘Sooner Or Later’, rip along a power rock groove and are about the heaviest tracks on show.
There is plenty of room to stretch out too. ‘Like A Clown’ assumes almost epic proportions and is the album’s Asia-moment with staccato riffs, mood changes, melodic twists, acoustic guitar, and an extended piano break. Archer enjoys the space and puts in a tour-de-force broken-hearted vocal delivery.
Sticking with the theme of diversity, here comes a ballad. ‘Time On My Hands’ begins as a gentle narrative drifting on a sea of, well, mediocrity. But stick with it. Rob Wolverson transforms the track with a searing, spiraling solo that blows apart the calm waters. The gorgeous synth-string arrangement would put one in mind of UFO’s ‘Profession of Violence’. And then Archer comes back in to wrap his big bluesy vocal chords around the go-for-broke chorus.
The influences continue to be widely mined. That blues thread runs through a few of the tracks, most obviously ‘Reuben’s Blues’, a brooding, complex gem which features sax front and centre. …but is that some country phrasing on ‘Desperation Train’? The harmonica intro also gives a check-shirted feel. Fear not. The driving riff that provides the impetus for the track could never be mistaken for a Glen Campbell outtake.
It has to be said that most of the subject matter wouldn’t push too many literary boundaries (…my gorgeous baby done left me and so I’m hard-drinking my life away, watching TV and playing my rock n roll…).
‘Ace Café’ on the other hand is a joyous departure. It paints a vivid pictures of biker gatherings of the 60s. A great track powered by Harry James on the tubs with Paul Quinn’s guitar augmenting the thick riff. And nice sprinklings of Hammond too. The entire creation reeks of oily leathers and bacon butties.
And on that note, a word here for the musicianship. Rob Wolverson is simply brilliant throughout. Elesewhere, Archer has whistled up the extensive services of the likes of Neil Murray, Paul Raymond, Dave Meniketti, Luke Morley and John ‘Rhino’ Edwards.
Each adds some flavour to the tracks and the standard of the album is high. But there are a couple of uninspiring moments on this 13-song opus. Surprisingly, the title track is arguably one of them. It’s built around a riff (OK, it’s a cool riff) that you’ve known and loved since you pulled on your first ever denim babygrow and is only just saved by a corking Wolverson solo. ‘Lately’ sounds a bit formulaic too often as well.
And if I was being picky, the chorus loop on ‘Spanish Nights’ could be pruned by a good two minutes. I’m not sure that ‘Shakin’ All Over’ is a great choice for a cover, either. Elsewhere the big production has really brought out the quality in Archer’s voice and put the musicianship front and centre. Here, the reworking just sounds overblown and messy.
But the whole album is done with such style, sincerity and enthusiasm that no-one here is complaining. This is a refreshing, professional, diverse outing and definitely worth checking out. ****
Review by Dave Atkinson
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