Album review: CALIFORNIA BREED – California Breed

Pete Feenstra chats to Glenn Hughes, 1 April 2014

California Breed

Frontiers Records [Release date 19.05.14]

You could be forgiven for dismissing this three generational band as ‘old wine in new bottles’, but that would be to the underestimate bigger picture that Glenn Hughes, Jason Bonham and young guitarist Andrew Watt aim for.

California Breed the band,  and the album title,  doesn’t so much reflect the musician’s origins, as simply nail an attitude, a feel and a vibe, full of expansive hard rock that sends out a statement of intent for a kick ass band with a new musical direction.

If Glenn Hughes and Jason Bonham’s decision to stick together after the demise of Black Country Communion suggested an update of the same, then ‘California Breed’ rebuffs any such notions, except of course for the ever present Zeppelin influence of Glenn’s, Plant style phrasing and Jason Bonham’s thunderous drumming.

‘California Breed’ is a hard hitting, but soulful album, with deeply entrenched grooves, raw gut passion and tons of spontaneity.

It’s also a very brave album, featuring Glenn’s in the moment live vocals, as producer Dave Cobb captures the band’s frisson by retaining the first vocal take and then mixing it into an enveloping wall of sound that gives the album its big sonic impact.

And while it’s true Glenn puts in a dramatic performance that belies his years, it’s the trio’s interplay, bolstered by an intuitive production that gives the album its edge. Glenn teeters on the brink of over-singing on the opening track ‘The Way’ (probably because he was unaware that this would be the actual take), but he hits his stride brilliantly in a duet format on the single ‘Midnight Oil’.

He’s equally good on the moving ‘All Falls Down’ and the expansive ‘Strong’, which finishes with an incredible ascending note into the fade, on a track that is the perfect meeting of band and producer.

Glenn Hughes, photo by Mark Hughes

‘California Breed’ feels as if the power trio have poured their heart and soul into this project. It’s a heavy album, nicely counterbalanced by an inversion of the quiet-to-loud dynamic so favoured by many contemporary bands. Tracks like ‘The Way’, ‘The Grey’ ‘Strong’  and ‘Invisible’, make an opening heavy riffed statement, before dropping down to accommodate Glenn’s melodic phrasing.

The most significant thing about ‘California Breed’ is that it is a collaborative effort. Hughes may dominate the tracks with his expansive vocals and rumbustious bass playing, but Watts’s searing guitar brings an incredible energy to the band, exemplified by the climatic solo on ‘Scars’ that fades all too quickly.

Producer Dave Cobb puts the emphasis squarely on a live feel, encouraging Jason to evoke his late dad with a thunderous performance, while on ‘Days They Come’ he goes the whole hog in Keith Moon mode, in a monster mid-number drum break.

This is a contemporary rock album with old school values that sounds like a band going for it in the studio. This is never more so that on Glenn’s double tracked vocal on ‘All Falls Down’ and ‘Spit You Out’.

The band set out their stall on a brace of big riffed opening tracks with Hughes all drama and vocal swoops, while there’s echoes of Zeppelin on the encompassing sweep of ‘Chemical Rain’.

Andrew adds Jimmy Page style riffs on the opening of ‘Midnight Oil’ before it become a fully realised piece as Glenn and an unknown woman singer slip into a soulful duet on the booming chorus.

At this stage the album sounds as if it has fully revealed itself, only to surprise us with the majestic rock ballad ‘All Falls Down’.  It’s a song about mortality on which Glenn sings from his soul and Andrew’s solo aims for the stars on a signature track for the band: ‘I should have been gone, but I came back for more, could have been a black cat bone and left a letter by the door’. 

Andrew Watt’s  variety of bone crunching riffs injects enough spark to match the rhythm section’s visceral intensity and help make ‘California Breed’ a seriously good rock record.

Every element of the new band is to be found in the closing ‘Breathe’, including Glenn’s Robert Plant style phrasing. It’s a perfect song, that like the album as a whole, feels like a composite explosion of emotion and energy that demands to be heard.

‘California Breed’ is a live in the studio gem that you will keep coming back to and never feel disappointed.  ****

Review by Pete Feenstra
Photo by Mark Hughes

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