Blackwater James – ‘Vol 1’ EP Review

Blackwater James are an American hard rock band who have a rich appreciation of that country’s heritage when it comes to good time rock ‘n’ roll and whose EP, entitled simply ‘Vol I’, is the sort of record that could (and should) provide the soundtrack to summer parties everywhere.

Referencing US hard rock acts from Guns ‘n’ Roses and Aerosmith to Velvet revolver and even a hint of the foo fighters, this is classy, sparkling hard rock, immaculately produced, played and jammed with memorable tunes. Take the single ‘Blackheart’, already a hit in their native land and deservedly so, it has just the right amount of edge coupled with a strong, clean production and melodies that stick to your brain like glue. It’s a heady combination and ably backed up by the rockin’ “burn this city down” which opens on a pure Duff riff (you can thank talented guitarist Deanna Passarella for that one) and then proceeds to get your head-a-nodding. Better still are the guitar pyrotechnics of ‘closer to free’ which sees Deanna and Christopher James (singer/guitarist) sparking off each other and throwing out blinding solos. It’s all brilliantly rehearsed and played and the feel is closer to that of “use your illusion” than “appetite”, but that’s no bad thing at all, and now that Axl seems to have eschewed hard rock for scyscraping uber-ballads and industrial noodling, it’s about damn time that we had a new act from across the pond willing to make suitably classic sounding hard rock.

And ultimately that is the best way to describe Blackwater James – the band are classic sounding. The music is comfortably theirs but also satisfyingly familiar and while the band are not strikingly original, that’s not really the point with this style of music – rather Blackwater James cater to the hips and their music demands both your attention and your movement. Proof? Try the lascivious ‘come on’ which follows in the great tradition of ass-shaking rock ‘n’ roll with a huge chorus and great vocals, or there’s the sleazy groove of ‘feel your way’ which drips charisma and lust in equal measure; if you haven’t hit the dance floor during at least one of those tracks then it is very possible you’re clinically dead. The final track ‘set it off’ is even better, a rare gem indeed that sees Christopher really pushing his vocals to the limit for a performance that has a greater deal of grit than the other songs on offer here and the result is a high-octane blast that is guaranteed to bring the house down at any live show.

It’s too easy to be dismissive of classic sounding rock music. Sure Blackwater James haven’t reinvented the wheel, but since when was that a requirement of good rock ‘n’ roll? Rock music is, and always has been, about producing something that makes people feel, and on that level Blackwater James succeed, having crafted a gutsy EP that has plenty of spark to recommend it. The music world needs its progressive, inventive sonic adventurers, there is no doubt at all about that, but the world also needs solid, hard-working and passionate rock bands and Blackwater James offer a rock ‘n’ roll blast that’s aimed squarely at getting your body moving, one way or the other. Let’s hope their star continues to rise because on this evidence they deserve it.

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