To be brutally honest, as I sit down to write this review, I am struggling to know where to begin…after all, Blackfoot is one of the bands who, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, turned me on to the energy of loud rock ‘n’ roll. They also were the first band that I went to see live… now, all these decades later, I am tasked with writing a few words on the band’s latest album – their first studio offering in more than 20 years!
My main problem with the task in hand starts with the band’s line up: there is not one musician who has been involved in any of Blackfoot’s myriad combinations. In fact, if it were not the fact that founder Rickey Medlocke is still at the helm, in terms of managing the b(r)and, producing the album and overseeing the songwriting, this current incarnation is totally inrecognizable and has no apparent connection with the Blackfoot of yore… in fact, it is quite probably safe to say that none of the current members were born when the band was enjoying their greatest commercial success in the years mentioned above!
The second is the sound which, again – apart from a few lyrical references – contains very few if any elements of what has gone before. Take opener ‘Need My Ride’, for example: it a fast and furious hard rocker, with a slight southern tinge, but it sounds antiseptic and lacks the immediacy of, say, ‘Road Fever’ (from 1979’s ‘Strikes’) or ‘Good Morning’ (from the iconic ‘Marauder’ of two years later). Similarly, the title track seems to lack passion and belief, but instead comes across blasé and pat, while the ballad ‘Everyman’ is workmanlike and could have featured on a thousand melodic rock albums. ‘Call Of The Hero’ does contain some neat slide touches (ironically performed by Medlocke) which hint at the Blackfoot of yore, but they are buried beneath an unfullingly average MOR melody.
To be positive, though, one thing that shines throughout the entire length of the album is the quality of Tim Rossi’s vocal: he has a rich voice, with a good range and neat intonation, and at times he does try to evoke the spirit of the band’s mentor, especially on the aforementioned ‘Need My Ride’ and the standout ‘Take Me Home’, a heavy-edged power ballad which delivers some of the album’s all too rare moments of convincing passion. But, by and large, he is let down by the quality – or the lack thereof – of the material as a whole, which fails to fulfil the expectation of such a long gap between albums: ‘Whiskey Train’ and ‘Satisfied Man’, for example, both lack that killer edge which Medlocke and his then bandmates seemed capable of delivering with such ease and aplomb back in the day.
At its best, ‘Southern Native’ is a half-decent hard rock album, with some good songs, such as the previously referenced ‘Take Me Home’ and the rambunctious ‘Love This Town’, by a half-decent hard rock band. At its worst, it is, in many places, a shadow of Blackfoot’s former self and an indication as to why Medlocke could perhaps have given a bit more consideration to putting this project out there under a different name and letting the existing monicker retire gracefully and, in the process, evoke the fond memories which still linger in our collective rock ‘n’ roll memories…
Tracklist: Need My Ride / Southern Native / Everyman / Call Of A Hero / Take Me Home / Whiskey Train / Satisfied Man / Ohio / Love This Town / Diablo Loves Guitar
Recommended listening: ‘Take Me Home’
‘Southern Native’ is released on Loud & Proud Records on 5 August.
- Band photograph © Doug Heslip.