Given that vocalist Simon Gordon once fronted acclaimed Brit tech deathsters Xentrix, it may come as somewhat of a surprise to many to find that this debut album from the beautifully named Black Whiskey (any band that combines my favourite colour with that of my preferred tipple – and with the proper spelling, natch – automatically has my vote in the nomenclature stakes) ploughs a more traditional classic blues rock furrow of the sort more favoured by the likes of Free, Ten Years After and, especially, early UFO.
With the band also featuring former 3 State Blues and Weapon guitarist Kev Ingles, bassist Mark T. Parkin and ex-Nakedium drummer Rich Bannister, this particular brand of the golden stuff is more of the gentle, sipping and sliding smoothly down into your gullet and embracing your taste buds in a warm and appreciative glow kind than the one which slams into the back of your throat, making your tongue curl and tonsils tingle.
Opener ‘Idol Rich’immediately sets the tone, with its crunching, stabbing riff and Gordon’s acidic vocal, with the former developing into a broiling, rolling rock ‘n’ rollick interrupted by an all-too-brief but all the more effectively so solo. The rhythm section of Bannister and Parkin are solid and suitably heavy, with the latter’s bass lines rumbling with a rich depth, while the drummer’s style is characterized by a snappy snare and understatedly effective double bass contributions. ‘All Seeing Eye’ features a gloriously powerful solo from Ingles, while lead single ‘Devil Rides’ (the video for which is streaming below) twists and snarls with acerbic intent, and features one of Gordon’s more harder edged performances.
‘Stone Cold Comfort’ builds from another of Parkin’s dense, rumbling bass lines, before Ingles’ guitar crashes in with the ferocity of a freight engine totalling a Volvo at an unmanned level crossing (yes, we had to get some railway analogies in there somewhere), before in turns easing back on the throttle and then slamming into fifth gear, interrupted in its momentum only by another superbly understated solo. ‘Hungry For Bullets’ is delivered with so much grit under its fingernails it would take even the most experienced of manicurists a month of Sundays to extract all its dirt, with both Ingles and Gordon again delivering sublimely sulphuric performances.
The album heads into its second half with the rambunctious ‘Save My Life’, which has the most commercial leanings of any song on the album but at the same time does not sacrifice the underlying grist which characterizes the band’s overall sound, while ‘The Coming Storm’ has a very Blackfoot-esque country-edged southern boogie to it’s hip-swaying groove. The title track storms along the tracks like a runaway express, with Gordon’s surprisingly smooth vocal overtopping another fiery riff, while ‘Tie It Down’ is a good old-fashioned blues-rocker stomper in the tradition of early Seventies proponents of the genre, with a Paul Kossoff style edge to Ingle’s second half solo, and closer ‘Can’t Kill The Fire’ is a suitably and suitably cheekily energetic to round off this damn fine and, erm, well rounded collection.
Overall, ‘Heavy Train’ is a fine exemplar of the heavy blues genre, paying homage to classic acts such as those mentioned in the opening paragraph but at the same time sounding fresh, modern, vibrant – and, most importantly, relevant.
Idol Rich / All Seeing Eye / Devil Rides / Stone Cold Comfort / Hungry For Bullets / Save My Life / The Coming Storm / Heavy Train / Tie It Down / Can’t Kill The Fire
Recommended listening: Devil Rides
‘Heavy Train’ is out now via RockSector Records.
Black Whiskey play the following dates:
Saturday March 28 – Bolton, The Alma
Sunday March 29 – Leicester, Firebug
Friday April 17 – Wakefield, Snooty Fox
Saturday April 18 – Whitehaven, Three Tuns
Friday May 8 – Camden, Barfly (supporting Blaze Bayley)
Saturday August 15 – Ebbw Vale, Viking Fest III (with Blaze Bayley, Tygers Of Pan Tang, Bad Touch, Beautiful Strangers, Spiral Dive and No Glory)