Glenn Hughes is an artist who has been to hell and back and produced some of the world’s greatest rock music on his travels. With Deep Purple and a varied solo career to his credit, most recently Glenn was seen collaborating with Joe Bonamassa, Derek Sherinian and Jason Bonham on three outstanding albums as Black Country Communion. Sadly, the union did not last and the group split, somewhat acrimoniously in 2013 amidst a welter of press speculation. However, you do not keep an artist like Glenn Hughes away for long and, following a chance meeting with Andrew Watt, it took only a phone call to Jason to lay the foundations for a new group, a power trio, named California Breed.
The advantage of being an artist with the lengthy history and career that Glenn has is that there is no fiscal need to work and the result is that Glenn’s projects are born out of a fierce dedication and commitment towards making art for art’s sake. In a world obsessed with image and artifice, such a desire is all the more important, and it does much to explain why California Breed’s debut album sounds like it was recorded by the youngest, hungriest band on the block rather than by two veteran musicians and a newcomer whose guitar skills are such that it sounds as if he was born with a guitar in hand and a Marshall stack in his cradle. The power trio model puts the emphasis on the quality of each musician’s performance, a challenge to which all three rise admirably, whilst the real question is to whom do the most plaudits go: to Andrew for his astonishing guitar work or to Glenn for what is arguably his best ever vocal performance on record. It is a close run thing and there is no doubt that the live dates promised later in the year will be truly electric if the power crackling through this release is anything to go by. Produced by the uber-talented Dave Cobb (Rival Sons) at his own studio in Nashville, ‘California Breed’ is a blistering, full-on rock record which, far from resting on the considerable laurels of its creators, lays down a defiant challenge to anyone willing to question the power of rock as an art form and showcases, in Glenn, an artist who has never stopped reaching for the stars and who, with this performance, damn near reaches them.
Opening with ‘the way’, the album immediately grabs you by the throat and gives you a damn good shake, soundgarden style, with Jason’s towering, Led Zeppelin beats underpinning the colossal combination of Glenn’s signature bass groove and Andrew Watt’s retro-fitted riffs. It’s a sky scraping opening track and Glenn’s voice is nothing short of scintillating, his ability to move from honey-rich, velvety tones on the chorus to a hard rock screech that tears from the speakers still undimmed after all these years. What an opening to a record! What a statement of intent! And it doesn’t end there. The primal groove of ‘sweet tea’ takes its inspiration from the Tina Turner staple ‘Nutbush City Limits’ before saddling it with a full on rock chorus that gives Andrew plenty of chances to shine on guitar. Next up is the slithery blues of ‘chemical rain’ which sits somewhere between Soundgarden’s twisted psychedelic masterpiece ‘supernknown’ and the Screaming Trees. Benefitting from powerful harmonies and a melody to die for, it highlights the depth of talent the band have at their fingertips and even taking into account the remarkable achievements of those involved, California breed still comes across as one of the finest things these musicians have ever put their name to. Jason takes the lead on ‘midnight oil’, his powerful drumming opening up the track before Andrew kicks in with a spidery riff that owes as much to Red Hot Chilli Peppers as it does to Zeppelin. It’s still firmly rooted in rock, but there’s a funky underpinning rarely heard in modern rock records and with its chorus of “let it burn, I’m gonna set it on fire with the midnight oil,” Deep Purple is drawn irrevocably to mind.
This being a Glenn Hughes effort, it wouldn’t be right is there wasn’t one powerful ballad, and the beautiful, elegiac ‘all falls down’ is surely one of the finest, most emotive efforts he has ever produced. Andrew proves himself a sensitive foil, reigning in the guitar pyrotechnics and allowing the song’s wonderful harmonies to shine, and you can easily imagine the track being hailed as a classic in the years to come thanks to its universal themes and gorgeous melody. Like every track here it is a simple pleasure to listen to, and there’s a strong argument to suggest that the album benefits from a live, on-the-fly recording process more akin to the classic releases of the seventies than the overproduced sterility of many a modern rock band – something for which Dave Cobb must stand and take a bow for, because it was his inspired idea to put Glenn in front of a live microphone to capture his very first thoughts. Indeed, Dave’s production is simply perfect, making each and every track come alive with a power and clarity that will leave you reeling, especially when the band unleash their full-on rock arsenal as they do on vibrant, multi-faceted belter ‘the grey’. On ‘days they come’, Andrew pays homage to his grunge roots with a grinding riff that nicely counterpoints a more relaxed verse structure. Time and again the band pull surprises out of the bag, and on ‘spit you out’ (another strong potential single), the funky strut the band unleash marries a sleazy grin with a sly wink only for the chorus to slam almost physically into you, demanding you dance like a loon whether you want it or not. In fact, one of the strongest cards California Breed have to play is the simple fact that they hark back to the era of Page and Playing, playing music that is as sensual as it is muscular, and surely no red-blooded rocker could resist its siren call.
As if the album hadn’t already thrown up enough potential singles, ‘strong’, with its acoustic strum and pounding bass has an insistent kick whilst its chorus drops into the minor keys of Alice in chains without missing a beat, making it another master-class in hook-laden song-writing. With a rather misleading title, ‘invisible’ is anything but with its huge opening riff and haunting, psychedelic verse making it a highly visible number on the album. A personal favourite, it is the sort of song that will destroy audience around the world when the band bring it to bear in the live environment. In contrast, ‘scars’ heads back into funky territory, Andrew channelling Dave Navarro with his fiery riffs and then, all too suddenly, ‘breathe’ gives the listener the chance to do exactly that with its tremolo-laden guitar lines drawing the album to a graceful close.
California Breed are all but the perfect hard rock band. In recent years we have seen a resurgence of the classic rock sound and vibe via bands such as Rival Sons, Black Country Communion and Scorpion Child and the common thread that draws these bands together is a passion for producing music borne of feeling and emotion. Glenn Hughes is quite literally incapable of playing with anything other than his heart upon his sleeve whilst in Andrew Watt and Jason Bonham he has found equal partners who share both his passion and, remarkably, his talent. There is not a weak moment, not an ounce of filler on this beautiful, blistering, belligerent beast of a record and there is not a singer alive who would dare to take on Hughes in his current form. Listening to California Breed is a privilege and there is no question that this potent combination will deliver a live experience bordering on the seismic when they finally make their way to the UK. Don’t miss this awesome album, it is an instant (and likely to be an enduring) classic.