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Joe Bonamassa ROYAL TEA.jpg

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover (actually, that is usually a good guide, given that thoughtful or interesting artwork tends to reflect the quality of the offering, but never mind), which is why this splendid album hasn’t until recently been given the listening time its quality merits by yours truly; to be honest the cover is pretty ordinary, consisting of a standard promo style photoshoot of another male quartet dressed in leather, and doesn’t promise much.

However, like opening up a box of Black Magic and finding that the contents have been replaced by the finest confections of your preferred chocolate provider, the contents of this collection are an unexpected and happy surprise. There’s nothing ordinary about these 13 songs, which in their sophistication and melodic power sound like the mature output from an established headlining band rather than the debut album of an emerging gang of young tyros.

This is classic anthemic Rock that has the depth and distinctiveness to stand out from the crowd of also rans. The album is non-stop energy full of soaring, melodic guitar lines, punchy chords, fast syncopated riffing and frenetically punchy but super tight drumming (often matching the dynamic riffing in crunching breaks). The sound is immense and it’s no surprise to learn that while the recordings were made in the Parr Street Studios in Liverpool, they were mastered at the Abbey Road Studios by Frank Arkwright, a mastering engineer with a deft hand (and good set of lugholes).

The icing on the cake is the assured vocal performance of front man Stevie Stoker who is clearly to the manor born (if the manor is stage front and centre) and no doubt gives it large in live performance. His Classic (that word again) Rock vocals are admirably boosted by some really strong backing vocals from the rest of the band, namely guitarist Jake Grimes, bassist Ryan Lee and drummer Jack Corbett. The combination of these together makes every track sound like a potential single.

If they can recreate this vocal sound live they will be a mighty potent force indeed. I really like Jake Grimes’ guitar work; there is nothing self-indulgent about it. The playing is fast but melodic, swirling patterns that build in an almost Prog Rock like way. Really enjoyable. Each track here is a gem. The pace only drops on track 9 for the excellent 'Mystery', which starts off with a catchy guitar run and builds up to a mid-paced ballad that a few years back would have had the potential to become a big Pop/Rock crossover hit with a decent bit of airplay (great backing vocals too). This is an amazing debut from a band that undoubtedly has a big future.

Simon Green

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