California Breed - California Breed (2014) May 17, 2014 22:07:41 GMT -5
Post by Erik Rupp on May 17, 2014 22:07:41 GMT -5
The best laid plans...
In theory, the debut album from California Breed (featuring Glenn Hughes on bass & vocals, Jason Bonham on drums, and Andrew Watt on guitar) should have been a, "Can't miss," proposition. Tons of talent on display, with a multi-generational lineup of old meets middle aged meets new, and a fairly well regarded producer really should have resulted in a great album. Or a very good one at the very least.
Instead, what we got was a good album with one great track and eleven other tracks ranging from very good to utterly mediocre. In a bubble (or in a vacuum, pick your metaphor), this album is fairly enjoyable and a success. But we don't live in a bubble or a vacuum, and there are three recent albums to compare this one to, and it doesn't hold up terribly well in that comparison. The three albums being, of course, the three albums that Hughes and Bonham did with Black Country Communion. Missing from that group, of course, is guitar player/singer Joe Bonamassa who quit the band under tumultous circumstances. But also missing is keyboard player Derek Sherinian, who's use of Hammond organ with that group is also noticeably absent here. And missed.
The one great song on the album, "Midnight Oil," was released as an album preview a little over a month before the album's release, and it certainly hinted at an album that would meet expectations. The previous single ("Sweet Tea"), however, while a very good song wasn't quite as good as, "Midnight Oil," and it borrowed more than a little from Robert Palmer's, "Addicted To Love." But, even so, the quality of the two tracks, and the monumental greatness of, "Midnight Oil," kept expectations high.
Then we got the full album. Ouch.
It hurts when we fall from those lofty expectations.
To be fair, California Breed is not a bad album at all. There are moments of greatness in several tracks. Unfortunately, none of those tracks can maintain that level throughout. Some of them have verses or bridges or choruses that are maddeningly mediocre, often boring and lifeless. "Chemical Rain," is a good example. There are some good ideas in there, but the finished product comes across like a dirge, lacking in vitality and consistency. The album lacks energy overall, and needed more time in the songwriting process. Producer Dave Cobb let the band down on multiple fronts.
First, he didn't direct the band well when it came to songwriting and song selection. He either just went with their ideas, or his input wasn't very good. Either way, he earns a below average grade for his handling of the actual music on the album. Secondly, and nearly as important, his handling of the sonics of the album was poor. There isn't a single guitar tone here that makes me go, "WOW! That's a great guitar tone!" There isn't even a single guitar tone that makes me say, "That's a really nice guitar tone." It's all that modern retro thing, and none of it sounds all that great. The snare drum sounds pretty bad when you focus on it. It's a clanky, empty metal drum sound lacking in actual snares. It sounds like a glorified metal tom. Poorly recorded and mixed. (All it needed to be vastly improved was a mic under the drum pointed at the snares, and an eq job focused more on high mids to make the drum snappier.) The final mix is just OK as well. I'm no fan of Kevin Shirley's audio production (his mixes are really lacking in high and low end - very midrangey and cardboardy), but Shirley's work on the Black Country Communion albums was much better than this.
And still I feel like I'm focusing too much on the negatives of the album and overlooking the positives, especially considering that there are a lot of positives here. "Midnight Oil," "Sweet Tea," "The Grey," and, "The Way," are all very enjoyable. But of the rest too many are slow dirges that sound like a band trying to find a combination of Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Trapeze, and the White Stripes. Too many of the songs are net energy drains rather than sources, and some of them just aren't all well written (again, not bad, but not good, either). The album needed more time and direction in the songwriting department prior to heading into the studio.
Is there hope for this band to put out a better album in the future? Absolutely. But they need to attack the songwriting from a different perspective, and they need a producer who can better direct them in that department.
As it is the debut album (which may end up being the only album) from California Breed earns a...