This week saw me receive a review copy of Richie Sambora’s upcoming new album. Since hearing that it was on the way I have been like a small child waiting for Christmas, so you can imagine that I almost exploded when I got the chance to hear the tracks. Both of Richie’s previous solo records have reflected his love of blues but have also allowed him to show a side of his writing that has been slightly different to the songs written for the day job whilst allowing his guitar dexterity to mirror the voice (that, in my opinion, has always been the best one in Bon Jovi!). Now, a surprisingly long 14 years after his last solo release Richie finally releases his new solo record on September 18th. “Aftermath of the Lowdown” comes on the heels of a number of years where news interest has focused on Richie’s private life rather than his role as songwriter and lead guitarist in one of the world’s top earning live bands. So has the wait, in a period where his main band released five studio albums, been worth the wait?
In a nut shell, the answer is ……… TOTALLY. I’ve been fortunate to hear most of this year’s rock releases and, for me, this is THE record of the year. I will admit that I am biased where Richie’s music is concerned but this is such a completely rounded record that it should appeal to fans of Bon Jovi, blues, guitar and any fans of the more melodic brand of rock. Many listeners might be surprised that this is a showcase for Richie’s song writing and singing first and foremost with the sublime guitar there to do what it should do – namely support the song with riffs and solos, rather than be the aim of each track. The first release from the record, “Every Road Leads Home to You” is not the sole piece of quality – what has been achieved here is a collection of 11 songs that blow away anything released by Richie’s main band in the last 14 years. The songs reflect light and shade but it is the consistency flowing through the record that really makes a point.
Those of you that have read the tabloid sensationalism surrounding Sambora will be in for a surprise. Sure, the trials and tribulations have clearly been an influence on his writing but this is no maudlin, “Oh woe is me”, blues record. Without a doubt, the over-riding thought that runs all the way from track 1 through to 11 is one of redemption and gaining strength from all that life throws at you – it’s not about getting knocked down so much as getting back up again. Richie’s voice seems more energised and his guitar playing even more heartfelt – ranging from acoustic strumming to his more signature rock sound.
“Burn That Candle Down” – with a Hammond organ driven intro, this one crashes into life with a slight retro tinge courtesy of the vocals being given a slightly distorted effect (bringing to mind old, crackly, analogue recordings). The song is filled with loads of life and passion and builds to a fabulous solo full of the blues influences that Richie demonstrated on his first two solo releases. Just to make sure we all sing along there is even a lot of the old “na-na-na” trick once so beloved of a certain Desmond Child when he worked with Richie and Jon for Bon Jovi.
“Every Road Leads Home to You” – the first single (if those things still exist?) released from the record is melody laden and full of longing. In fact it’s the sort of song we would kill for Bon Jovi to produce! Uplifting and catchy, this one is my single of the year so far and comes complete with a great hook line that acts as a really cool “ear worm” – the sort you would be delighted to be singing all day, everyday.
“Taking a Chance on the Wind” – opening with slide and acoustic guitar, this sounds like it might be about the hard times Mr Sambora has experienced over the last few years. In fact it is quite the opposite and is more uplifting and possible than you would think possible.
“Nowadays” – starts off sounding like a very young pop-punk band, this track talks about the day-to-day junk we all have to deal with (along with taking a few shots at politicians and bankers along the way) and how the speed of modern life is just hassle. Once the chorus hits you know it;s back to more traditional Ritchie but the blend of styles on offer belies the fact we are looking at a record by a guy with a 30+ year career.
“Weathering the Storm” – more reflection on life’s travails, but again this has more of a positive twist – pick yourself up and start again. The problems we encounter are merely opportunities to learn and get stronger.
“Sugar Daddy” – aimed at the fame hungry women that haunt stars, perhaps? Whatever else, with sequenced beats Richie manages to mix old style blues with the new (almost like “Eliminator” era ZZ Top) in order to create a menacing sneer accompanied with a very knowing wink (oh yeah, comes complete with more sing-along “na-na-na”s).
“I Will Walk Beside You” – more uplifting reflection that brought to mind friends no longer with us and yet, as the song builds you also get the sense that this could also be a more traditional love song. A very neat and stylishly simple lead line beautifully enhances this more traditional ballad style track.
“Seven Years Gone” – Richie is on record as saying that this track is not about one particular life event. Rather it is about suddenly realising that things have moved on, changed and that with time comes healing. The epic proportions of the arrangements would make for a great movie theme/soundtrack.
“Learning How to Fly With a Broken Wing” – power and enlightened reaction to the fact that, no matter how big a “star” you maybe you have failings of spirit. Fantastic guitar riffs with lots of typical Sambora techniques that fans will know and love (squeals, slides, etc) all surround a fantastically catchy chord sequence.
“You Can Only Get So High” – the most melancholic (in a good way!) of the tracks on the album. The lyrics don’t exactly put things in a euphemistic way, and yet Richie still brings across a sense of positive change coming through pain.
“World” – a lovely, pretty little song that examines the world in which we live and appear determined to destroy. Tree hugging from Richie? Possibly, but rather than beating us around the head with how evil humans are he seems to treat the listener as a grown up.
“Aftermath of the Lowdown” is a rare beast – a blues record that screams happiness; reflections on trials and tribulations without resorting to blaming everybody and everything; a guitarist’s album that focuses on the song rather than technique. In short, worth the 14 year wait and if this is wat Indie records sound like I need to hear more indie music(unlike his previous albums, Sambora is releasing this on the independent Dangerbird label).
Score out of 10? Let’s try 14! Don’t leave it so long next time Richie.
“Aftermath of the Lowdown” is released on 18th September 2012 via Dangerbird records
Richie Sambora performs in London on 16th October 2012,
For more information: www.richiesambora.com
Review by David Wilson