Album review: GRAND SLAM – Hit The Ground

GRAND SLAM - Hit The Ground

Marshall Records [Release date 22.11.19]

Great things should have happened for Grand Slam when they emerged in 1984 from the dust that settled after the tangled and anti-climactic end of the great Thin Lizzy, who themselves were just seeing a huge rise in popularity again due to the well-received ‘Thunder and Lightning’ album, their best in years.

After a little time out to lick his wounds and reassess the situation, Phil Lynott put together the five piece, having drafted in Magnum’s Mark Stanway and Stampede’s Laurence Archer to form a star-studded array of talent and started drilling the band so hard he won the nickname ‘The Sergeant’.

Those who witnessed the band live can testify what a ferocious outfit they were and the material that was emerging was amongst the finest that their leader had been involved in, the writing alchemy with both Stanway and Archer providing nuggets of pure gold.

They should have been huge but the reputation of the band in the music industry was tarnished before they had a chance due to the past, well documented, issues that Lynott had with drugs and the band didn’t see 1985. Fast forward to the present and Grand Slam, now led by Archer, have re-emerged to right the wrongs of the past and prove with this, their proper full-length debut, that they have the class and style to truly be in the big leagues.

A near-perfect hard rock record, ‘Hit The Ground’ is a distillation of all that made the original band so great whilst adding a sheen and power that comes from this new line-up, Archer now joined by vocalist Mike Dyer, David Boyce on bass and drummer Benjy Reid.

Opener ‘Gone Are the Days’ has the Celtic swashbuckling feel so reminiscent of Lizzy and shares the same swagger tinged with poignancy that informed some of their best work. It’s a strong and impressive start, a statement of intent and springboard to the delights that are to follow, the mix of the material written more than three decades ago with newly minted tracks all gelling into a perfectly flowing whole.

Next up, ‘19’ is one of the older tracks on the album and continues the thematic line with a hard edge rebel spirit, the guitar and rhythm section ferocious and taut, the riff taking no prisoners.

Title track ‘Hit the Ground’ points to a bright future for the band, the quality of writing especially high and in Dyer they have found a vocalist with a rich tone and real power in his voice that never sounds forced but is very much in the mould of some of the classic rock singers of the 70’s and 80’s.

It’s a true testament to the man that he makes ‘Military Man’ very much his own, the band playing with a fire and urgency equal to the original in a way that both is a tribute to Lynott and a stamping of their own passion for the material.

Superb production makes this version sound huge and whilst it may smooth some of the rougher edges of the original, it adds additional layers and touches that elevate it to one of the highlights of this release, featuring, as it does, some outstanding fretwork from Archer.

‘Crazy’ blends 80’s hard rock with 70’s glam to great effect and ‘Dedication’ brings a terrific updating of the Lynott/Archer collaboration, still sounding majestic with the band truly firing on all cylinders, its irresistible riff bringing back floods of memories.

There are many jewels amongst the album but the one that shines the brightest is ‘Long Road’, a beautiful and laid-back track that soothes like a cool breeze on a hot summers day. Brilliantly written and produced, it has a really timeless quality that will surely herald it as a classic for many years to come.

The mix of acoustic and electric guitar, along with a peerless arrangement, mark it as a song that should be coming out of radios all over Europe and the vital ingredient of any road trip along the highways and byways of America.

Following that was always going to be a tough job but with its gentle beginning that switches to a torrent of ‘Emerald’ like Celtic rabble rousing, ‘Sisters of Mercy’ takes up the gauntlet nicely. Always one of Grand Slam’s most popular live tracks, its Lizzy-shaped hard rock begs wild and utterly abandoned dancing, a pint of stout or a whisky held aloft in celebration and getting totally swept away by the music.

There really is no let up in tempo as the closing tracks offer an effective one, two knock-out blow in the shape of ‘Crime Rate’ and the titular ‘Grand Slam’, sealing the deal with no measure of doubt as to the power and passion of the album.

Penned by the Lynott/Stanway partnership, the former is another classic rocker that features some supercool vocals from Dyer and a touching little nod to the late, great Gary Moore with the inclusion of some ‘Nuclear Attack’ siren-wail guitar touches by Archer.

The band’s calling card and final track is a huge and powerful as its name suggests, full of frantic riffing and the rhythm section putting their all into it as it heads, full tilt towards the finishing line.

It may have taken thirty-five years to get here but it’s been well worth the wait as ‘Hit The Ground’ proves that stellar songs and a truly tight band will always come through. Grand Slam are back and that’s most definitely cause for celebration.  ****1/2

Review by Paul Monkhouse

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