Sometimes, surprises are over-rated – the thrill of the unknown is, more often than not, just a pre-cursor to crushing disappointment. So there’s a lot to be said for sitting staring at a menu you already know inside out. And that’s most certainly the case with Aces & Eights, the sophomore release from UK rockers Sons of Liberty, which takes its cues from the ballsiest back-catalogue of classic rock and proceeds to kick like a tanked-up mule in steel-toed western boots. If the label on the tin suggests tracks laced with smoky Bourbon and primed with premium engine oil then that’s exactly what you get.
So…JD and Coke, anyone? Really, it’d be rude not to given what’s on offer here.
For starters there’s Ruby Starr, a rousing tribute to the singer who backed Black Oak Arkansas with Jim Dandy and went on to form the band Grey Ghost. It’s a straightforward slice of old school bar room rock that sees frontman Rob Cooksley giving his all to a chorus that spreads the joy in big, chunky grooves. The only thing missing is a sun-scorched festival field to set the whole thing properly alight.
Sure-fire Southern fare is to be found in tongue-in-cheek lark Beef Jerky Boogie and on the likes of Texas Hill Country and Doc’s Remedy – all of which merge sizzling blues with the blistering guts of British attitude. Meanwhile, we’re much more in traditional rock territory with the unadulterated stomp of Damaged Reputation (the lead single from the album which deservedly won rotation on Planet Rock). But despite the obvious gusto, the aim of the game is just damn good tunes: that’s clear even on the numbers at the bone-shaking end of the scale, with the twin guitars of Fred Hale and Andy ‘Moose’ Muse injecting some stirring stuff.
And, while the up-tempo numbers are instant winners, the band are equally at home on broodier ground: Don’t Hide Behind Your Weakness climbs from its understated beginning to soulful melodic altitudes while Black Blizzard is a grim apocryphal tale that really works the title’s sense of foreboding, Cooksley exploring his deepest, raspiest reaches to brilliant dramatic effect – much like a latter-day Johnny Cash.
Surprisingly, though, the real showpiece could well be big power ballad I Come in Peace: sure, it ain’t no overblown Aerosmith weepy, but the standout solos and diaphragm-busting vocals should be more than enough for those with a soft spot for sway-along slowies.
Overall, it’s a full-bodied, red-blooded collection made for anyone with rock n’ roll in their veins.
You know you’re going to love it even before the first chord.
Aces & Eights is out on June 18
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