Randy Bachman realized it was time for an artistic change.
Randolph Charles Bachman, of course, is well-known for his star turns in a couple of vintage bands – The Guess Who, with their huge hit “American Woman” and Bachman-Turner Overdrive with their huge hit, “Takin’ Care of Business.” Although Bachman hadn’t released an album in 5 years, since his last collaboration with Fred Turner on the set Bachman & Turner, in the work leading up to that time he hadn’t gained much artistic traction. He seemed to be caught in a rut of repeating himself in his more recent work, and he was damned if he was going to stay on that path. Neil Young had actually spoken with him about this, saying, “Do yourself a favour and don’t do the same old Randy Bachman s— and say it’s new. Get a new band, get a new producer, write some new songs, get a different guitar so you play differently and do something new and scare yourself. Be terrified. Be ferocious. Be fearless. But also be afraid.”
So he took the necessary steps to re-invent himself and find a new direction for his music. He wrote some blues music and contacted an old friendly, blazing hot rock producer Kevin Shirley – you may know him from his many albums with Joe Bonamassa – to produce the record. Shirley agreed but only had time for two weeks worth of recordings and mixing – a possibly daunting project. But Bachman and Shirley went for it, assembling Bachman’s band full of great musicians. It was heavy 60’s blues-rock music that served as the main inspiration for the sound and feel of the album. Power trios like Cream, Hendrix, The Who, and Zeppelin. The artists found that Shirley was a pleasure to work with, and that he was able to achieve both an organic and deep sound without too many takes and studio tricks.
It was important to Bachman that the drums and bass have character, that they grooved and experimented, and didn’t play what could be handled just as easily by a drum machine, or simple repetitive eighth notes in the bass line. He found two women strongly influenced by The Who, Anna Ruddick on bass and Dale Anne Brendon on drums. The guest solos were often recorded by having Bachman send them the mix of the song, and having the guitar solo recorded on their end and then sent back to Bachman. Other guests on the album include Peter Frampton, Robert Randolph, the late Jeff Healey who recorded his solo before he had passed away, and our very own Joe Bonamassa! Another inspiration that lingered in Bachman’s mind was the raw blues-rock of contemporary acts like The White Stripes and The Black Keys.
A lot of the songs on the album try to capture the vibe of a specific artist that inspired Bachman in his younger days. The first track, “The Edge” is in the style of The Who. Other tracks are influenced by bands like Jimi Hendrix Experience and Led Zeppelin. “The Edge” is thick and heavy. It’s a song about freedom, about being on the road, living dangerously, just as Neil Young had instructed Bachman to do musically. An uptempo rocker with crunchy, distorted guitars, and you can hear the excellence and Who influence of Bachman’s new rhythm section shining through. Bachman’s vocals also are in fine form, smooth and pleasing to listen to, but able to cut through the heaviness of the guitar sounds.
Guest guitarist Scott Holiday adds to the second track, “Ton of Bricks:” aggressive, edgy, and with unusual tones. The song relates themes of living in the moment, letting go of the past, and embracing the universe just as it is, with allusions to both God and the Devil. “It hits you like a ton of bricks” Bachman sings, pointing to a moment of existential crisis when torn between the extremes of the divine and devilish figures. “Bad Child” is one of my favorite tracks on the album, and I have to admit that this is in part to the presence of blues guitar titan Joe Bonamassa playing a solo. A song about danger, breaking the rules, riding with the wrong crowd and the Devil, “I was so bad at being good, good at being bad” Bachman admits, proudly. The virtuosity of Joe’s playing shines through and Bachman has admitted he was rather blown away by it when he first heard it.
“Little Girl Lost” is the most straight forward blues song of the album to this point, focusing on the Freudian theme of a girl trying to live up to her vision of daddy’s approval, falling into sexual dependency and hard living. It features a vintage Neil Young solo and, while Bachman’s vocals are quite good, a guest vocal spot by Neil Young would have been excellent and well suited to his tenor here. But alas…
All in all, it’s great to have Randy Bachman pursuing this kind of music, and the guest guitar spots help to make it an all-star event. It will be exciting to see if Bachman continues to travel down the pathway of hard-hitting, aggressive blues-rock, and if he will continue to work with Kevin Shirley on such projects.
Stand out Tracks:
Track 3: “Bad Child” (featuring Joe Bonamassa)
Track 4: “Little Girl Lost” (Featuring Neil Young)
Track 6: “Oh My Lord” (Featuring Robert Randolph)
Track 8: “Heavy Blues: (Featuring Peter Frampton)
Track 11: We Need To Talk
– Brian R.
Featured photo by Mike Hough