Provogue [Release date 06.05.16]
‘Pierced Arrow’ isn’t so much a concept album as a confirmation of shared values, which extends from the music of Stephen Stills and Kenny Wayne Shepherd to their predilection for vintage cars. Their 10 track musical journey is rooted in the blues but expanded into rock, soul and some welcome spontaneity which gives the album its essential edge.
The Rides is a blues supergroup featuring Stephen Stills, Barry Goldberg, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and also features Double Trouble/KWS drummer Chris Layton and the bass playing producer Kevin McCormick. And if ‘Can’t Get Enough’ was a promising debut album, ‘Pierced Arrow’ genuinely feels like a step up.
The band has organically evolved though a judicious mix of quality songs and just enough touring, to fulfill the high expectations that have acted as a catalyst for one of the best blues related albums of the year.
Everything comes together seamlessly on ‘By My Side’, with Kenny Wayne adding a career best vocal as the band harmonize empathetically. The slow blues-rock arrangement builds imperiously to confirm that for all their superstar status, the band has genuinely connected.
‘Pierced Arrow’ is a well balanced roots rock album, rooted in the blues but not hemmed in by it. There’s muscular rocking, crisp interplay and a locked-in feel essential to the material at hand.
They open with A powerful Stephen Stills vocal on ‘Kick Out Of It’, a rocking groove which emulates the opening ‘Roadhouse’ track on ‘Can’t Get Enough’.
Stills sounds reborn on both the opening track and the album as a whole, and he shares real chemistry with Kenny Wayne Shepherd on the dual harmonies of ‘Virtual World’. The latter is a notable success, as it could easily have fallen into the trap of being a Crosby, Stills & Nash pastiche. It’s quite the opposite, being a meditative piece full of space, time, subtle dynamics and an expressive guitar tone that hits the mark.
There’s also an essential flow to a well paced album on which the tempos ebb and flow, the grooves lock in like alligator clamps, the solos percolate and the pristine vocals give the material real substance.
Stills is at the top of his game on ‘Mr. Policeman’ and Kenny extends the white boy soul feel on both ‘By My Side’ and a fine cover of ‘I’ve Got To Use My Imagination’. Despite some hammy bv’s, it develops into another impressive groove, full of explosive licks and Barry Goldberg’s Hammond sweep and underpinned by the peerless rhythm section.
Stills’s weathered vocals bring real presence to the harp driven, gritty rocking blues of ‘Game On’, as Barry switches to electric piano and the band stretches out ebulliently.
They step yet another gear on the visceral, KWS-led rocker ‘I Need Your Lovin’, full of call and response bv’s and a high energy arrangement that makes light of the band’s cross generational roots.
It’s also an unusual delight to find such an uplifting brace of songs at the three quarter point of an album, but it’s further confirmation that this band is really cooking
Where ‘Can’t Get Enough’ flickered and occasionally sparkled, ‘Pierced Arrow’ is a breathless follow up, with excellent songs, inspired performances and impassioned roadhouse rocking that a few years ago seemed beyond Stills’s capabilities. Kenny Wayne also seems re-invigorated and delivers his best yet vocals, while Barry Goldberg has found a project worthy of both his talent and his Chicago blues lineage.
And still there’s still more, as Stills tackles the slow blues ‘There Was A Place’ in which he makes good use of a stop-time arrangement in which the pauses add to the impact of his vocal, while the uplifting chorus and cool notes contribute to the impact of a song that stays with you long after the last note.
Only the closing ‘My Babe’ - a rather obvious choice for a cover – robs an excellent album of a deserved finale.
‘Pierced Arrow’ is that rare thing, a splendid album worthy of the band’s superstar status. ****½
Review by Pete Feenstra
Pete Feenstra presents his Rock & Blues Show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Tuesday at 19:00 GMT, and “The Pete Feenstra Feature” on Sundays at 20:00
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