Over the years the Californian quartet, Rival Sons, have scored themselves some primo supporting slots, opening for such big names as AC/DC, Alice Cooper, Aerosmith and, most recently, Black Sabbath. It doesn’t take long after hitting play on Hollow Bones, the group’s fifth album, to figure out why they’ve landed these gigs; they deliver big riffs and solid contemporary blues based rock and roll. Unsurprisingly centre stage is taken by Jay Buchanan’s vocals and Scott Holiday’s guitar, but bassist Dave Beste, and drummer Michael Miley, deserve their props for providing solid rhythmic work and knowing when to give a little more, or pull back, to ensure the songs are appropriately spacious or boisterous.
Hollow Bones Pt. 1 and Tied Up introduce the album adequately enough, making it clear from the outset what the vibe of the album will be, with the former’s guitar being as fuzz-filled as your head the morning after a weekend long bender, and the latter sounding like it came straight out of the ‘70s. Rival Sons manage to have their cake and eat it too on Thundering Voices, which is a big, dirty, rock song with a big dollop of pop sensibility thrown in for good measure. It is 3 minutes of music that is a joy to keep returning to.
Fade Out demonstrates that Rival Sons can utilise dynamic range, as the song ebbs and flows, shifting from subdued, pop-inflected verses to the big, classic-rock, chorus. Buchanan’s vocals are particularly strong, as he gets to show his versatility as a blues singer. This is also the first track on the album to move towards being an extended composition, falling just short of 5 minutes duration, and this provides a good segue between Hollow Bones’s first and second halves. A cover of Ike and Tina Turner’s Black Coffee was a surprise, but it is more than a pleasant one, as Rival Sons add 3 odd minutes of their blues-rock flair to the song, and the addition of female backing vocals is a nice touch.
While it is undoubtedly a strong song – illustrating Rival Sons versatility – the softer, acoustically driven closer, All That I Want, is incongruous with the preceding slabs of gritty riffage, and the penultimate Hollow Bones Pt. 2 would have been a more logical place to conclude the album. Pt. 2 is superior to Pt. 1, and the decision to split Hollow Bones in two – and then separate the parts by six songs – is a curious one, as Pt. 1 smoothly leads into Pt. 2’s spacious intro. Splitting Hollow Bones in two begins to make sense when you think that not everyone is up for a 10 minute track, but not placing the parts side-by-side seems a tad foolhardy as well, representing one of the albums few clear missteps.