It’s good to come across a band showing a bit of imagination. This album by Roadhouse has been kicking around for a few months, and having read about it elsewhere I thought I’d give it a whirl. And I’m pleased to report that on City Of Decay Roadhouse not only show off a distinctive sound, they also make a bit of an effort with the aesthetics generally.
The title track mourns the decline of Detroit, the one-time powerhouse of the US car industry sunk in economic failure, and the cover art by Martin Cook extends that theme with atmospheric use of black and photographs of the bankrupted city.
Opening track ‘This House Is On Fire’ captures the freshness of their sound perfectly, crackling with electricity from the start as guitarists Gary Boner and Danny Gwilym compete to offer up fizzing, buzzing lead lines and chunky, jangling chords as a prelude to Boner’s gruff, croaking singing, lifted nicely by backing vocals from Maggie Graham and Sarah Harvey-Smart. It’s a deceptively simple affair that benefits from a sense of urgency in the tempo laid down by Roger Hunt’s drums, has a neat middle eight with a riff reminiscent of Whitesnake’s ‘Sweet Talker’, and a piercing guitar solo for good measure.
The following ‘City of Decay’ is naturally one of the pillars of the album, its moody, twanging opening heralding a patient and contemplative meditation on the damage done to Motortown, USA. Boner and Gwilym’s lead and rhythm guitars again play off each other nicely during successive solos, and the sound is a credit to the production by the two guitarists and drummer Hunt.
‘Blues Highway’ is another highlight, a drive down Highway 61 with a sense of dislocation that smacks of a road trip to anywhere, nowhere, as much as to the Delta. It’s all played out with a haunting quality, exemplified by the shared vocals from the two girls. Maddie Graham’s voice in particular has a Stevie Nicks-ish quality to it, though edgy rather than fey, and she makes an especially good job of her lead vocal on the shimmering ‘Midnight Rain’, which also features some weeping slide guitar in the intro and as an undercurrent throughout.
In contrast, ‘Night Of The Gun’ takes a stand on gun violence to the accompaniment of a tough Jack Flash riff, but also folds in quieter spells and changes of pace around its driving chorus and guitar solo, as well as a nice ascending bass line from Bill Hobley.
It’s not all out of the top drawer. ‘King Of The Streets’ is acceptable if undistinguished fare, the lyric to ‘Queen Of The Mountain’ feels hackneyed, and I sense an over-fondness for diminishing vocal outros. But ‘Turn Your Face Into The Wind’ closes proceedings with tinges of country and an uplifting chorus, generating a sense of hope to offset the sadness and anger elsewhere, and here a repeated vocal refrain is used to good effect.
Roadhouse have apparently been knocking around for years under the leadership of Gary Boner and his compadres Hobley and Hunt, releasing a succession of albums along the way. News to me, I must confess. All I know is that they’re a band with a fresh sound and an interesting take on American themes, and that, when they get it right, these elements turn City of Decay into an album with something to say, that’s worth listening to.