Album review: REX BROWN – Smoke On This

REX BROWN - Smoke On This

[Release date 28.07.17]

Judge a book by its cover at your peril, especially when that man is former Pantera/Down bass-slinger turned six-stringer, Rex Brown – who comes off an entire life of rocking the road with a firm vow to “shake some shit up”.

I love the excitement and anticipation of listening to an artist who, entirely without pretense, goes back to the roots of his creative flow to produce a record of what’s truly inside, unschackled by preconceptions and able to revel in musical freedom. Drawing on the mystique of hanging and recording in Nashville – music’s Mecca to many – and the trusted camaraderie of songwriting, producing and multi-instrumentalist buddies, Lance Harvill and Caleb Sherman, certainly got Rex Brown’s juices flowing into a gushing river of gritty, ‘70s-infused rock ditties – a real quality offering from a man “stepping out front” for the first time.

After spending a lifetime anchoring down the bottom end of some serious metallage, Brown’s transformation into southern-influenced, melodic riff-writer will surprise many but this debut album stands entirely on its own merits – crunchy, thick and lush. There are a lot of guys who’ve been doing this kind of stuff for years and have never come close to producing anything this good.

The influences and past associations of the co-contributors light up the album like neon outside a strip joint – “Buried Alive” with its sludgy Soundgarden chorus (a personal mourning for the loss of Dimebag Darrell), “Crossing Lines” and “What Comes Around” with their slabby Zeppelin-esque signatures and, my immediate personal favorite – the meaty, down-to-earth “Train Song” – no secret that some Blackfoot juju was liberally sprinkled over this one to great effect.

Compelling opener, “Lone Rider” and riff-tastic “So Into You” are just simple, stonkin’ rock songs, constructed masterfully – get in, make your point and get out – sounds easy, right ? Maybe it’s Brown’s mantra that he’ll listen to “anything from Sinatra to Slayer” that informs his ability to cut tracks like the trippy “Fault Line” and “Get Yourself Alright” which vacillate between Sgt. Pepper pop sensitivity and monster rock-holler chorus.

The mark of a man thoroughly enjoying his new calling is the confidence to include the track “Grace” – featured on the album because “it’s just a really great song, Period. Bottom line”. It may not be the album’s strongest cut – but Brown is just doing what he wants, bravely kicking any pre-formed expectations to the curb. Amen brother – do what you feel and feel what you do.

The former Cowboy from Hell is back amongst us and on the strength of “Smoke On This…..”, Rex Brown can consider the shit honestly and faithfully shaken up – excellent stuff.  ****

Review by Mark “Mad Dog” Shaw

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