Bulletproof 20/20 Records [Release date 09.06.17]
Still barely 2 years old, Blackwater Conspiracy is a Northern Irish band whose debut album ‘Shootin’ The Breeze’ boasts their own take on classic rock, which they play with drive, purpose, passion, and deliver with the kind of chops that would befit a band twice their age.
They are unafraid to reach back into the past for their salient influences and punch above their weight with a powerhouse style full of well crafted rock with a familiar ring.
Indeed, on the opening ‘Waiting On Hollywood’ vocalist Phil Conalane is a ringer for The Pretty Things’ Phil May in his heyday, as his screeching vocals demands that the lyrics be heard.
Over the course of 10 varied tracks, they reference classic rock in its broadest sense and southern and hard rock in particular, with occasional Stones style country undertones. They eloquently forge their own take on heritage rock with a contemporary feel, born of a twin-pronged production that never let’s the flow stagnate or the energy levels slip.
It helps of course that the band has such natural spark. You suspect that the production team of Sean Douglas and James Wilson were probably more concerned with channeling the band’s energy levels than having to worry about their performance.
They open with the sludgy Bad Company influenced, 70’s style rocker ‘Waiting On Hollywood’, which obliquely references the band’s own boundless ambitions. Guitarist Brian Mallon’s wah-wah led rocker is the perfect portal to the band’s own broad based approach.
They are fired by a kick ass rock attitude and focused intensity that will surely satisfy all rock fans on the look-out for an exciting new band.
The following ‘The Monday Club’ works towards a hypnotic repeated hook. The song emphasizes the band’s pristine harmonies as they drag the arrangement over the coals and rock hard towards a harmonic resolution.
‘Shootin’ The Breeze’ benefits from the way it builds by degrees. Blackwater Conspiracy eschew the common tendency to go for the throat immediately and prefer to build up their momentum on the back of slow building rockers such as the Southern rock, country tinged ‘Penny For Your Dirty Mind’, on which the vocals and melody takes precedence.
Each track refreshingly reveals a different musical facet as part of a coherent set of songs. The composite 10 tracks suggest the band are as musically mature as they are young, fresh and innovative.
They also know the value of contrast; when to lock into a groove, when to conversely hang back and let the melody percolate and when to rack up the intensity and rock.
There’s no weak link here as the big production gives the band all the headroom they need to explore their own bluster.
Happily, they have the songs to match their drive, as evidenced by the snare and piano-led ‘President Joe’, on which Conalane’s vocal attack is magisterial. He evokes Robert Plant and Axel Rose by turns, before hitting a spine tingling top note. But there’s more to come, as the band builds up a meaningful solo as an integral part of the song, complete with Kevin Brennan’s subtle piano work which leads into a feather light fade.
They reach still further with the staccato hook of ‘85 Rock Star’ which will surely become their live calling card as well as a radio staple.
It’s on this song that all their essential elements come to bear. A sweeping Hammond takes them full circle into an a cappella hook, which creates a moment of tension that gives its subsequent resolution such impact.
They also have a song called ‘Blackwater Swagger’ which epitomizes a band that knows its own abilities. They have the virtuosity, the songs and the belligerence to kick down the barn door of complacency and find their own place in the spotlight.
They seem unconcerned by the deadening hand of the studio, as rock ballads such as ‘Hanging Tree’ are a triumph of dynamics. Once Conalane’s outrageous vocal hits rock radio stations it will surely catapult the band to greater things.
They add poetic lyrics to the Southern rocker ‘Shoot The Breeze’ on which Kevin Brennan cops Chuck Leavell’s piano parts on an enveloping track with a big sky feel, while vocalist Conalane even hangs behind the beat on an anthemic rocker ‘Decadent Highway’.
What’s not to like? Truthfully this is classy stuff, which is only tempered by the ghosts of the past, from Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones to Guns N’ Roses and The Allman Brothers. The fact that the band fills its melting pot full of such classic rock ingredients and still comes up with something unique speaks volumes about both their song craft and musical identity.
This summer Blackwater Conspiracy are set for some serious festival action and you suspect that by the time they come out the other side, they will be a hot ticket. ****
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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