Ruf [Release date 16.09.16]
‘Ride Or Die’ is a proud statement of just who Devon Allman is. He’s a southern rocker with a wide musical outlook who over the last decade has carved out his own rootsy niche.
‘Ride Or Die’ pulls all the elements together in a heartfelt and thoughtful writing style that defines Devon Allman as a contemporary blues man with something to say.
This is his first self production since ‘Space Age Blues’ and he takes the opportunity to highlight his chops with a wide range of tones that express his emotions and showcase his lyrics, on an album that cleverly contemporizes old school blues values.
He also delivers the best vocals of his career which brings subtle contrasting textures textures to the verses and more significantly the choruses.
He’s certainly never taken the easy route, sticking to his own roots based musical path, rooted in rock, blues, latino, funk, r&b and soul. And all those elements percolate and bubble up on a very organic album that extends the style he honed on ‘Turquoise’ and further refined on ‘Ragged & Dirty’.
‘Ride Or Die’ can be interpreted as an exhortation to live life to the full, but it’s also an album with a mature reflective quality that moves from the general to the specific, on a set of songs that reveal much about the Allman the songwriter.
He’s a romantic with a hardened heart, a passionate observational lyricist unafraid to shine the spotlight on the human condition, and above all he’s a musician who refuses to be bound by people’s expectations.
‘Ride Or Die’ is the kind of mature album that he might not have been able to make ten years ago. He pours all his experience, conviction, guile and understated confidence into some exhilarating moments on one of the best albums of his career.
He moves from the muscular ‘Galaxies’ to the more introspective ‘Vancouver’ and ‘Butterfly Girl’, while further underlying his ability to pen a great hook on ‘Find Ourselves.’
‘Ride Or Die’ is a multi layered album with different stylistic pulses, cleverly pulled together in the company of some capable studio hands. Aside from his touring bass player Steve Duerst, he’s brought in the fresh ideas by co-writing 5 songs with Tyler Stokes, whilst drummer and sometime co-writer and producer Tom Hambridge contributes just one here, and handles co-production, mixing and mastering duties
The album title comes from a defining line on ‘Galaxies’, the best track on the album. It’s everything Allman has always aimed at. There’s song craft with a lyrical emphasis and some judicious but powerfully delivered guitar parts that revel in a variety of attacks and tones.
‘Galaxies’ features a double tracked vocal on an uplifting hook that provides the perfect context for his earthy baritone, while his spiky solo at the end of the song does indeed evoke the power and imagery of galaxies colliding.
The funk-rock meeting of ‘Shattered Times’ allows the band to stretch out as Allman and keyboard player Kevin McKendree burn.
‘Ride Or Die’ constantly challenges us with its diversity, but still nails an essential organic flow. It’s one thing to move from rock intensity to soulful balladry and then into funk and blues rock, but it’s quite another to bring those elements together as coherent whole. And Allman does so with a self production that cleverly captures the essential feel of the songs and the collective spark of the performance
He never quite let’s go of his soulful influences, as on the gentle acoustic wash and the vocoder treated ‘Lost’. It’s a song that evokes the feeling of emotional turmoil as highlighted by the line: “you couldn’t be more lost”.
There’s a similar lightness of touch on the emotive ‘Live From The Heart’, on which a featherbed production showcases one of Devon’s very best vocals.
Then there’s the reflective love song ‘Vancouver’, which will surely become a set list staple. It simmers and sparkles on a swampy opening and then glides into a memorable hook: “If I had a time machine, if I could get back somehow, I ‘d change so many things, and she’d be with me now. “
From that song onwards, ‘Ride Or Die’ is almost an album within an album, as the last 6 tracks are all solo compositions, which with the exception of ‘A Night Like This’, fit together like pieces in a jig saw.
He flies high on the radio friendly ‘Butterfly Girl’. Bobby Yang’s nuanced violin line and a subtle stuttering break leads us into the sing-along hook. It’s a wonderful acoustic-led, melange of glistening harmonies and subtle strings which emphasize real feel, while having one eye on a commercial break
The closing drone like ‘A Night Like This’ sounds like a cool groove without a resolution, until Ron Holloway’s sax break. It’s a rare blip on an otherwise sparkling album full of soaring melodies, significant hooks and cutting edge solos. Devon Allman never sounded so good. ****
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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