‘The Rides’ seems like a pretty bland monicker for a band that includes Stephen Stills and Kenny Wayne Shepherd, plus Chicagoan Barry Goldberg, who himself has a pretty heavy-hitting track record as both a keyboard player and a songwriter. Pierced Arrow meanwhile, the title of their second album, may seem a bit contrived unless you happen to know about the Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company, a manufacturer of luxury cars back in the pre-WWII United States.
I was too young to really be aware of CSNY in their heyday, but while Neil Young has gone on to
become of the great icons of classic rock music, and
Crosby and Nash never seem to be done prattling on about their part in the good
old days, Stephen Stills has always struck me as the dark horse of the outfit. So maybe I shouldn’t be surprised by him
teaming up with Shepherd to form what he’s called “the blues band of my dreams”. But I kind of am, as they seem like an
unlikely combination. So the first
question is - does the sound really gel?
|Stills, Goldberg and Shepherd commune with nature|
On the whole the answer is yes, though admittedly it sometimes seems like there are two different albums being played alternately, as Stills and Shepherd trade lead vocal responsibilities in their distinctive voices. Stills goes first, on the mid-paced stomper ‘Kick Out Of It’, with his weather beaten voice underpinned by an offbeat rhythm from drummer Chris Layton and a colourful blending of Shepherd’s guitar with (I suspect) fuzzier tones from Stills. Shepherd’s singing is a rather less resonant affair, but adequate for the likes of ‘Riva Diva’, a boogie in an SRV vein on which there’s neat interplay between his guitar and Goldberg’s piano.
‘Virtual World’ is a deeper affair, a slowie on which Stills turns in a keening vocal over which Shepherd harmonises to conjure up a CSNY feel, while he also adds some subtle lead guitar licks.
Both of them get down to lead guitar business on a brooding version of ‘I’ve Got To Use My Imagination’, co-written by Goldberg with Gerry Goffin, and previously a hit for Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland. But they keep it disciplined, with none of the extended noodling that Shepherd can sometimes perpetrate. In fact the guitar work is one of the most satisfying features throughout, particularly when Stills gets stuck in
A few songs are on the slight side, such as the aforementioned ‘Riva Diva’, the Delbert McClinton-ish boogie of ‘I Need Your Lovin’’, and the rather redundant cover of Willie Dixon’s ‘My Babe’. But even these are entertaining enough, not least because they’re both elevated by some sparking piano from Goldberg. But these are redeemed by the gritty ‘Game On’ and the fragile ‘There Was A Place’, both of them featuring vocals from Stills.
Is the whole greater than the sum of the parts? Perhaps not. The writing credits may suggest this is a team effort, but my spider sense suggests that things get more interesting when Stills’ hand is on the tiller. And a project that encourages him to keep working has to be a good thing.
Pierced Arrow is released by Provogue/Mascot on 6 May 2016.