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Southern Gentlemen - "Valley of Fire" (CD)

Southern Gentlemen - "Valley of Fire" CD cover image

"Valley of Fire" track listing:

1. Valley of Fire
2. The Sky is Falling
3. Devil in Me
4. Snake Flower
5. Trouble on the Road
6. End of the World
7. Hard Winter
8. Whiplash Girl
9. Dropping Anchor
10. Never Say Never
11. Bitter Harvest

Reviewed by on October 24, 2009

"On the downside, there are some moments where the bluesy feel and some clumsy lyrics make Southern Gentlemen seem like your neighborhood bar band, rather than one whose album you'd happily fork over 15 bucks for."

If you like Whitesnake, I'll bet you'll like Southern Gentlemen's "Valley of Fire." Guitarist David Chastain, singer Eric Johns, bassist Dave Swart and drummer Mike Haid play the same sort of muscular post-Zeppelin blues rock that the pre-Tawny Kitaen Whitesnake specialized in — minus the keyboards. The end result is a disc that's a pleasant enough 45-minute diversion, but one that occasionally veers a little too far into bar band territory.

This is the first Southern Gentlemen disc that features songwriting by anyone other than Chastain (who's best known for his work in his self-titled metal band). Vocalist Eric Johns wrote the vocal melodies and lyrics, and he's done a great job of it, writing parts that are well-suited to his vocal range. He can soar like Coverdale and has an appealing lower range that's reminiscent of Elf-era Dio.

Those expecting neoclassical guitar fireworks from Chastain will leave disappointed. This is strictly a boogie-blues affair with just enough distortion added in to give it a metal edge. That said, Chastain burns up the fretboard with his best solo on "Trouble on the Road."

The band's dedication to a bare-bones sound is reflected in the fact that Chastain never dubs in a second "rhythm" guitar part when he's soloing. I like the fact that the studio recording sounds as "live" as possible, but it does expose a bit of weakness in terms of Dave Swart's bass lines, which sound quite sparse during the solos.

Generally, the best songs on the album move at a good clip, including "Whiplash Girl," which is propelled well by Mike Haid's Bonham-like bashing on the drum kit. "Never Say Never" is another good one with a ZZ Top vibe.

On the downside, there are some moments where the bluesy feel and some clumsy lyrics make Southern Gentlemen seem like your neighborhood bar band, rather than one whose album you'd happily fork over 15 bucks for. The worst offender is "Devil In Me," which clumsily makes reference to a "stairway to heaven" and a "highway to hell" in the same breath. Also, I was less than excited by the several attempts at topical songwriting which referred to kids being sent off to die in a desert war.

Southern Gentlemen's "Valley of Fire" isn't anything that even makes an attempt to redefine the genre. It's a solid bit of blues rock that, despite some clumsy moments, will mostly keep your toe tapping for 45 minutes.

Highs: The faster-paced "Whiplash Girl" and "Never Say Never."

Lows: The band veers into bar band territory on a couple tracks, including "Devil In Me."

Bottom line: Mostly solid blues rock with enough of a metal edge to keep things interesting.

Rated 3 out of 5 skulls
3 out of 5 skulls


Key
Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)