Album review: ROADHOUSE – City Of Decay

This hour long special was first broadcast on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio on Sunday 17 July.  Gary Boner chats to Pete Feenstra about the band and new album.

Roadhouse - City Of Decay

Krossborder [Release date 15.07.16]

In a career spanning over 20 years and 13 or so albums,UK band Roadhouse have made a virtue out of being a broad musical church. They started life as an Americana and alt.Country guitar led outfit, before gravitating towards roots-rock and latterly blues-rock. ‘City of Decay’ places the emphasis firmly on the weight of their songs, while this superbly produced album captures both the band’s natural spark and their musical excellence.

Roadhouse ‘s founder member and principal songwriter Gary Boner is arguably best known for his dark narratives which reflect the underbelly of the American heartland. He draws on a combination of history, geography, legends, myths and popular culture – spanning film, literature and of course music – to conjure up a set of wide vista, filmic narratives at the hear of some deep grooves.

The combination of interwoven lyrics and intricate guitar lines makes for the kind of potent musical landscape to be found on songs such as the doubly reprised ‘Blues Highway’.

‘City Of Decay’ mines familiar themes with jangling guitar lines and showcases the trademark vocals of Mandy G. and Sarah Harvey Smart, who smooth out Gary’s rough-edged vocals.  And even in those moments when they do rock out, as on a the borrowed AC/DC riff of ‘Queen Of The Mountain’, the tight arrangement never wavers in its focus on Sarah’s lead vocal and the band’s musical minutiae.

At times the band sounds almost restrained, but the album’s lyrical and musical nuances reveal themselves with repeated plays. It’s all there on the broad sweep and lightness of touch of the opening track ‘This House Is On Fire’, on which the guitar solo gives the song an uplifting feel.

Then there’s first of two version of ‘Blues Highway’, on which the sinewy guitar solo gradually moves centre stage, as the ensemble bliss’s away contentedly in the background. There is a belated pay-off of course, as Boner provides the whammy bar led solo resolution.

And if Boner always seems obsessed with the dark side of society and metaphoric decay, there’s plenty of sparkling instrumentation and uplifting melodies to lift the gloom

The strongest message this album sends out is simply that Roadhouse is not only the splendid sum of it’s parts, but all the band members are encouraged to stamp their own personalities on the album. This applies as much to the songs – Boner shares 6 co-writes with guitarist Gwilym –  as it does to the production which is split three ways. There’s always a portal for solos that act as an audio exclamation mark rather than an meaningless adjunct, while the vocals are always at the centre of the mix, as the redoubtable rhythm section provides plenty of light and shade and drive.

The title track, drips with desolation, but sets a high standard for the rest of the album, with a slow burn predicated on a subtle percussive pattern that locks tight into an acoustic/electric led groove. A subtle pause and sudden chord change acts like a spring cool before dual harmony guitar lines lead us back into the groove and a melodic solo.

Mandie G. hogs the spotlight on the brooding ‘Midnight Rain’, a song that benefits from the kind of pre-chorus lift that separates the best songs from the rest.

‘King Of The Streets’ features a growled Boner vocal over Roger Hunt’s tic-toc percussion as the guitars bubble underneath. The track finally explodes into a melodic southern rock guitar break over Hobley’s beautifully nuanced bass notes. It’s an  excellent example of a road tested band playing at the top of their game.

There’s an unexpected extra radio edit of ‘Blues Highway’ before the anthemic ‘Turn Your Face Into The Wind’ perfectly bookends an excellent album. ‘City Of Decay’ brings a new found maturity to an already weighty musical canon.  ****

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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David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 GMT, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 8 May 2022.

UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020 and 2021 Finalist) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 GMT as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 3 May 2022.

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