Provogue [Release date 18.08.14]
Bernie Marsden’s ‘Shine’ explores a wide ranging musical horizon including a cleverly updated blues, slick AOR, kick ass boogie, riff driven and twin guitar rock, a steaming bluesy shuffle and a book-ended instrumental. By his own admission ‘Shine’ includes some stockpiled material, but it’s subtly shaped, polished and nicely sequenced by his former Alaska band member turned producer Rob Kass.
Recorded in studio 3 in Abbey Road (where the Beatles cut ‘Revolver’), ‘Shine’ sparkles with confident songs, sumptuous guitar tones, potent harmonies, magisterial playing and Bernie’s best ever lead vocals.
Producer Rob Kass strikes the prefect balance between the album’s song driven focus and the possibilities that an array of guests – including David Coverdale, Jimmy Copley, Ian Paice, Don Airey Cherry Lee Mewis, Joe Bonamassa and Mark Feltham – and a big studio offers him.
‘Shine’ is a coherent album that plays to Bernie’s strengths. He’s always been a consummate guitarist and a prodigious song-writer, but a combination of different vocals textures injects the steely arrangements with style and gusto.
Listen for example, to the airy, west coast vocal sweep of Danny Kirwan’s ‘Dragonfly’ – included here as an ode to Peter Green – and the standout title track. The Cream style vocal harmonies are underpinned by Ian Paice’s pounding stick work and topped by Don Airey’s keyboard riffs and Bonamassa’s scintillating solo. All the elements coalesce seamlessly as if building to a naturally defining moment on the track.
But this is such a well paced album that the final four tracks find their sequential place as part of an integral whole, before coming to rest on Bernie’s acoustic instrumental outro.
‘Shine’ opens with a sledgehammer groove of Leadbelly’s ‘Linin’ Track’ which mirrors the song’s lyrical muscularity, while the hot picking on ‘Wedding Day’ has a Sonny Landreth feel, as part of an enveloping production.
The keyboard led ‘Walk Away’ almost sounds out of place with its 80’s keyboard motif and uplifting hook, except it’s a sister track to the eco message and vocal tour de force, ‘Who Do We Think We Are’.
The kick ass boogie and ZZ Top influenced ‘Kinda Wish She Would’ is effectively a counterweight as Bernie’s slightly distorted vocal gives the track an extra bit of edge on a riff driven rocker with huge radio potential.
The guests all make their mark, as Mark Feltham’s lyrical harp line colours the extended groove of ‘Ladyfriend’, as it smolders, sparkles and envelops you. It sets things up nicely for the percussive reworking of ‘Trouble’ predicated on David Coverdale guttural phrasing. Bernie has never been reticent to explore his back catalogue and he’s rarely bettered himself than on this blast from the past.
Cherry Lee Mewis adds gritty vocal contrast on the laid back blues-rocker ‘Bad Blood’ and just when you think the whole album has run its course on the hook laden ‘You Better Run’, Bernie launches himself into a dirt tone wah-wah inflected Americana shuffle ‘Hoxie Rollin’ Time’, which is surely destined to become a live favourite.
‘Shine’ is a career high for Bernie Marsden. It’s an album glued together by his own deeply embedded imprint of harmony driven songs with significant hooks and burning solos. It’s almost as if he’s successfully pursued his own mission statement of cutting a definitive solo album. It may have taken him 40 odd years but it’s been worth the wait. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
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