2011 has proven a vintage year for classic rock music, with outstanding releases aplenty from rising stars of the genre and elder statesmen alike. To set the seal on it, I hereby present a personal selection of highlights from the albums that blew my mind over the past twelve months . . .
10. Night Ranger: Growin’ Up in California
Always a firm favourite with discerning melodic rock fans the world over, the mighty Night Ranger stormed back in 2011 with the excellent Somewhere in California – from which was taken the joyous and evocative Growin’ Up in California, perhaps best summed up as the musical equivalent of bottled sunshine. Crank it up, and blast away those winter blues!
9. WhoCares: Out of My Mind
Gillan, Iommi, Lord, Newsted, McBrain (and Linde Lindström from HIM). As supergroups go, it doesn’t get much more super than that. And with this charitable release, the stellar line-up certainly delivered. Built around a characteristically bruising Iommi riff, the song is a quite strikingly successful Sabbath-meets-Purple affair, putting me in mind of Gillan and Lord’s band around the time of The Battle Rages On, while also bearing the delightful Sabbath hallmarks in Iommi’s lead playing as well as his riffage. Let’s hope that the hints of further collaboration between Iommi and Gillan in the near future bear fruit – and if they can get the rest of this formidable assemblage to chip in once more, so much the better!
8. Saint Jude: Down and Out
A heady and wistful bluesy ballad from one of the most exciting new British bands around, this is the perfect end-of-night song, as you sip away at that last glass of red wine and wonder how it got so late so quickly, yet again. Lead vocalist Lynne Jackaman is an astonishing talent – as you will surely agree if you are lucky enough to hear this song performed live!
7. Black Stone Cherry: In My Blood
‘Difficult third album’? Pah! The latest offering from the boys from Kentucky was chock-full of instant classics, most famously including lead single and opener White Trash Millionaire. For me, though, the album’s third track gets the nod as my favourite. Bristling with energy and muscular vitality, and with a hook to die for, this song has had me reaching for the repeat button on more than a few occasions in recent months!
6. Warrant: Sex Ain’t Love
Warrant blasted back into the consciousness of rock fans in May with the gloriously adrenalized Rockaholic, and this barnstorming opening cut – a seismic melée of powerhouse rockin’ and sleazy glam stylings – fairly nails the listener to the wall. 2011 was a very sad year for Warrant fans, with the untimely passing of Jani Lane; lets hope Erik, Jerry, Joey, Steven and Robert can help to keep his memory alive by continuing to create music of this calibre, that is true to the joyfully exuberant spirit and irrepressible sense of fun with which he imbued the band’s performances.
5. Miss Behaviour: Give Her a Sign
Another stunning release from a band only recently brought to my attention, Miss Behaviour’s Last Woman Standing is a gold-plated collection of wonderfully crafted and supremely performed AOR gems. And this powerful uptempo anthem, with its terrific lead guitar breaks, killer hook, and super-cool lead vocal, has been a constant visitor to my metaphorical turntable this year. Pure class.
4. Whitesnake: Fare Thee Well
A heartwarming valedictory offering from Sir David and the boys, this song surely brings a tear to the eyes of ‘Snake fans all over the world in live performance. Firmly and authentically in the rootsy, bluesy spirit of the band’s early years, it’s definitely right up there with Mr Coverdale’s career highlights. Say it ain’t over, Dave!
3. The Answer: Nowhere Freeway
There she goes again . . . Lynne Jackaman lends her talents to this gorgeous driving anthem, dueting with Cormac Neeson on my favourite song from The Answer’s uniformly excellent third album. If you plan on doing that trip of a lifetime down Route 66, make sure you blast this song out a few times along the way!
2. Black Country Communion: Cold
Messrs Hughes, Bonamassa, Sherinian and Bonham wasted no time in following up their superb debut album, delivering a second album of striking depth and quality in record time this year. And, on II, they saved the best for last: an intimate ballad of devastating power, infused with the kind of soulful chords that have always marked Glenn’s songwriting, and blessed with a lead vocal that stands up with anything he has done in his illustrious career. This song will stop you dead in your tracks.
. . . and the winner is . . .
1. Uriah Heep: Trail of Diamonds
Uriah Heep more than matched the impressive standards set by 2008’s Wake the Sleeper with Into the Wild, an album that, for me, unerringly represented the spirit of the band’s early seventies heyday, while also managing to remain strikingly fresh and vital. This uncanny achievement is perfectly epitomised by this wonderfully atmospheric and transportative fantastical epic. Bernie Shaw relishes the role of (David) Byron-esque troubador, and the band play with a passion and conviction that sucks you right in and leaves you with no choice but to lose yourself in the journey. A lot of rock fans probably think that even Uriah Heep don’t write songs like this anymore. They do, and they’re bloody good at it.