Self release [Release date 04.01.19]
There can be few independently run bands that have made it to their 25th anniversary with consistently good new material, but Roadhouse is no ordinary band.
Originally a roots-rock and Americana outfit with Southern rock edges, they kept the latter influence, but broadened their musical sweep into blues tinged roots-rock. And under the leadership of prodigious songwriter, guitarist and vocalist Gary Boner they have built up an impressive cannon of work -13 albums and counting – as well as establishing themselves on the Euro festival circuit.
No surprise then, that their anniversary album ’25 Years And Counting’ (their first self release outside their usual Krossborder label), boasts some 25 tracks with over 30 musicians, including one of former Family and Streetwalkers guitarist Charlie Whitney’s last recorded efforts.
Guitarist Gary Boner, bassist Bill Hobley and drummer Roger Hunt remain from the original line-up, and its Hunt and his wife Lou who tackle the thorny problem of what to leave out, as they strike a good balance between the band’s earlier rootsy line-up and their more recent rock driven approach.
The album opens with the 1995 country influenced ‘Ain’t Coming Back’, which features original vocalist Robert A. Roberts. There’s a notable contrast between the band’s early style and the later big screen vista of ‘Gods And Highways And Old Guitars’, a showcase for vocalist Mandie G, on a song that borders on the anthemic. Then there’s the riff-driven ZZ Top influenced boogie of ‘Blues Motel’, which finds both guitarist Danny Gwilym (China Town/Shogun etc) and vocalist Mandie G at the top of their game.
The more recent efforts point to an upswing in creativity, with ‘Hell On Wheels’ being a guitar-driven piece full of sparkling harmonies, while the sub-Zeppelin riff that opens ‘Queen Of The Mountains’ gives way to the band’s other stellar vocalist Sarah Harvey Smart. The slow burning rock ballad leads into the acoustic/electro ‘Turn Your Face Into The Wind’, a perfect bookend to an impressive musical journey that illuminates the depth of Boner’s songwriting.
It’s worth dwelling on his songs which have noir quality both in terms of their narratives and feel. There’s the jangling guitars and harmony vocals of ‘When Mountains Fall’ and Charlie Whitney’s magical mandolin on the harp-led ‘Back Streets’, which is a beguiling 7 minutes and 36 seconds worth of roots rock with Roberts on lead vocals.
There’s also the funky groove of ‘Fire Walking’, The Outlaws influenced southern rock of ‘Desert Sky’and the magisterial ‘Voodoo Queen’, which along with ‘The Big Easy’ digs deep into New Orleans folklore, for an up tempo funk rock groove of the highest order.
‘No Place To Hide’ finds the band rocking with lashings of slide guitar, while the moody ‘Slip Away’ evokes the doomy lyrics perfectly.
‘Couldn’t Get To Sleep Last Night’ on the other hand, has a West coast sweep and evokes Jefferson Airplane with its folk rock harmonies.
And if a compilation sinks or swims with the benefit of an essential flow, the band achieves that with the guitar juggernaut of ‘Dark Angel’ which is nicely juxtaposed by the hard rocking intensity of their American radio hit ‘Telling Lies’, complete with slide guitar and breathless call and response vocals.
The more you listen the more you marvel at how the band has managed to keep its standards over two and half decades. There’s enough diversity to keep interest levels high, check out the deft acoustic guitar on ‘Mexican Nights’ for example. The intensity levels and ripping solos will keep any rock fans happy, particularly on tracks such as ‘Last Train Home’ and ‘Preacher Man’, both of which could easily have come from Lynyrd Skynyrd’s back catalogue.
Roadhouse clearly favours the slow build up of songs like ‘Blues Highway’ which is the musical equivalent of a slow burning fuse that you know will eventually explode.
And while it’s probably true to say that Roadhouse’s career has never really exploded, this compilation sends out 25 great reasons while there will always be a market for a fine twin guitar driven band with versatile vocalists and memorable songs. Here’s to the next 25. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
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Pete Feenstra celebrated his 300th show in October 2019. Pete heads up a five-hour blues rock marathon when “Tuesday is Bluesday” from 19:00 GMT. Listen out also for his interview-based Feature show on Sundays (20:00 GMT)
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