Quarto Valley 2013
Definitely one of the best hard rock albums of 2013 that goes deeper ‘n’ deeper with every new spin.
Perfection doesn’t come easy, it only sounds effortless. And it’s been quite a hard road for master axeman Stuart Smith who alerted the world to his immense talents with an album which would give a name to his band, the talents many didn’t see behind the veneer of guests. The same may go for “No Money, No Love”, a flagship single of this record: there’s too much flesh in the corresponding video to see the strong bone behind it all – backbone, if you like. And a backbeat to boot because one can never have enough of the clever rocking that is served so elegantly on “Dig”. Smith’s ingenuity lies in his wise unwillingness to innovate and his desire to plug a hole on the current hard rock scene, where a lot of artists try to be original without being organic and mix the usual ingredients – Hammond organ, high-velocity guitar, heavy drums – in an artificial way, but Stuart does it naturally.
As do his compadres. Now, unlike on the band’s debut, "Windows To The World", the ensemble feeling reigns, with keyboard player Arlan Schierbaum back in the fold after his stint with Joe Bonamassa and the group’s mainstays Smith and drummer Richie Onori’s tenure with SWEET rewarding them with vocalist Joe Retta, the best they could have. And they could have anyone play anything, like Richie Sambora who applies his talk box and slider to the infectious grit of “Man & Machine” here, yet that’s a mere embellishment of collective spirit. Spirituality plays a major role on the album, infusing “House Of Blues” with a measured philosophic vibrancy, but it took Stuart’s personal issues, such as friend Kelly Hansen jumping ship for FOREIGNER and his daughter’s illness that made the guitarist keep closer to home, to be overcome to shape the tight elation of opener “Victorious”, a triumphal slab of old-school heavy sway, with just the right dose of the Eastern-tinged swagger.
They slightly err towards hackneyed universality in the finale of “Live As One” but balance it all with humor which fills the gaucho shuffle “Good Times” and all the subtle hints at classic pieces that Smith has always been adept at leaving for the listener to relish. This time it’s his buddy Ritchie Blackmore’s riff in the “Back In Anger” political commentary and the harmonic background of “I Don’t Know What Love Is” picking up where the similarly titled FOREIGNER hit left off and taking its vertiginous beauty, elevated with David Paich’s strings, to new heights. Yet even more mundane matters underlying “Waiting For The End Of The World” chime with grandiose portent, anchored with Chuck Wright’s supple bass, and affairs of the heart in “A Day Like Today”, adorned with Howard Leese’s Renaissance acoustic, unfurl cinematically, whereas “Sexual Insanity” pitch necessary madness, and Celtic march-cum-disco, in its kick-and-release angry knot. There must be a different kind of human exploitation, and “Rock & Roll Does” provides a perfect, harmonica-harnessed realization of such – now there’s a sweet, piano-spiced harassment.
The depth of this album reveals itself gradually, so it takes repeated plays to fathom, and enjoy, it all. Dig on to dig it!