Appearances can be deceptive. I’ve been aware of Kris Barras as a name for a bit, but without ever encountering his stuff. So when I see pictures of said gent, in a t-shirt with extensive tats, with hipsterish beard and slicked back hair, and read that he’s a former MMA combatant who’s “unleashing southern-fried blues fury” on his album The Divine And Dirty, I’m expecting to hear an avalanche of very modern, heavy duty, greasy boogie. Which it isn’t. It is, however, really good.
Sure, there’s some bluesy stuff in The Divine And Dirty, and some kinda southern rock riffs based on licks not power chords. But with Barras’s airy voice to the fore, it heads in a direction that reminds me of the Paul Nelson Band’s Badass Generation, an album that used blues and southern rock influences as a launchpad to get into 80s style AOR. And the end result is something breezily refreshing.
|Kris Barras - Let's get ready to rumble!|
Okay, so when you really get down to it a couple of songs like ‘Hail Mary’ and ‘Stitch Me Up’ might be a bit slight. But catchy hooks abound, the production from keyboard player Josiah J. Manning is strong and clear, and when it comes to vocals you can forget Ronnie Van Zant. Think Jon Bon Jovi – and believe that it works.
All this is true right from the outset, with ‘Kick Me Down’ and its swooping slide notes over a rolling riff and swells of organ, soon augmented by tasteful soaring backing vocals. But if you need convincing, check out ‘Propane’, which features a sweeping chorus straight out of the melodic rock playbook that sounds oh-so-like the Christopher Cross hit ‘Ride Like The Wind’ – a song, lest you forget, covered by NWOBHM stalwarts Saxon. ‘Lovers Or Losers’ similarly features a revolving guitar line, with injections of slide, and ends up hinting at Bon Jovi’s ‘Steel Cowboy’. Penultimate track ‘Blood On Your Hands’ canters along on a choppy, hooky riff, with a melody and vocal that sound like Bryan Adams in his pre-wimpy heyday. It’s good tunesmithery, with a big sound incorporating attractive piano, and great backing vox to boot.
Manning’s piano is a recurring motif. On the more rootsy ‘Wrong Place, Wrong Time’, a rattling, uptempo melting pot of r’n’b, he throws some jazzy woogie into the boogie, to augment Barras’s spot-on rock’n’roll solo – make that solos, because he chucks in another satisfying outing at the end too. It’s there again on ‘She’s More Than Enough’, which has a crisp rhythm from Will Beavis on drums, a fast-paced Southern-ish riff – and bags of energy and just-harvested freshness. Oh yeah, and another pretty damn fine hook.
Initially I could live without ballad ‘Hold On For Tomorrow’, but it as it grows it also grows on me. With another strong vocal, lush organ and vocal harmonies underpin another tasteful solo from Barras. The closing ‘Watching Over Me’ is probably stronger, a Bonamassa-style ballad that rises to a big peak before dropping off into delicate closing phrases.
Is The Divine And Dirty something revolutionary? No, it’s not. But it’s a breath of fresh air that’s delivered with brio, and it plays to its strengths throughout. Summer must be coming soon, surely, and this will make for a good soundtrack for when you stick on your shades and wind down the window in the car.