Riverdogs – Riverdogs (1990)

Riverdogs_14 out of 5 Stars!

Just prior to hooking up with Shadow King (and, soon thereafter, Def Leppard), guitarist Vivian Campbell (ex-Dio) popped up on the underrated debut album by Riverdogs, a Blues-based Hard Rock band from L.A.

Besides Campbell’s often-terrific guitar contributions, singer Rob Lamothe is perhaps the biggest reason I keep coming back to this album time and again year after year. To my ears, Lamothe falls into the “Paul Rodgers/David Coverdale/James Dewar” category of singers, and I adore his soaring, passionate, and distinguishable voice, the way he delivers his lines with such emotional angst, and often wonder why he didn’t become the “next big thing” in rock music.

Regardless, the album is crammed with catchy material, with sing-along fare such as “Whisper,” “I Believe,” “Toy Soldier,” “Water From the Moon,” and my favorites, the mid-tempo and more dramatic vocal showcases “America” and “Baby Blue.” In many cases, the music often reminds me of the style of albums generated by artists such as Bad Company, Cry of Love, Robin Trower, Badlands, Whitesnake, Trapeze, or Hydra, mostly Bluesy Hard Rock with a hint of Southern Rock as well…basically any group that features those vocalists I mentioned above, where Lamothe’s style really seems so darned appropriate.

And over the course of these ten memorable tracks, Campbell shows the full depth of his talent, his layered rhythm guitars, both acoustic and electric, sounding full and rich, while his six-string leads always melodic and emotive, and also technically stunning and occasionally shredding. Obviously, given his background with Dio, I purchased this album upon its release and originally expected Riverdogs to have a Heavy Metal edge, so it left me pleasantly surprised to hear Campbell do something so completely different, and do it so well.

Anyway, after this debut, Campbell unfortunately left the group for pastures anew, but Riverdogs soldiered on with another guitarist and released a fairly enjoyable second studio album in 1993 before calling it quits…for nearly two decades, that is. Although I have no firsthand knowledge as to their content, two more albums appeared, one in 2011 and the other in mid-2017, with Campbell returning to the fold for each while working simultaneously with both Def Leppard and (most recently) Last in Line. One of these days I hope to investigate both releases and see if either comes close to the high standards set by this debut with its mature songwriting, the exceptional performances, and the polished production quality.

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Shooting Hemlock – Big Green Monster (2010)

ShootingHemlock_Monster3.5 out of 5 Stars!

Shooting Hemlock, a little-known band out of Boston, eventually came to my attention based on the presence of guitarist Joe Stump (Reign of Terror/HolyHell) as well as singer/guitarist Brian Troch, a former member of a defunct Chicago group I used to know and see play on a regular basis. Although Shooting Hemlock released its debut album in the late ’90s, then seemingly disappeared, the band’s sophomore collection, Big Green Monster, suddenly popped onto the scene more than a dozen years later, and this is the release I finally tracked down several years ago.

To my ears, Big Green Monster is a rollicking, down ‘n’ dirty collection that often brings to mind a sort of “Tesla meets Soundgarden meets Anthrax” sound/style. Most of the twelve tracks, including “Minutes in the Sun,” “Whitewash,” “Brain Candy,” “Death & Taxes,” and “Payback,” offer up extremely raw and grungy Heavy Metal, typically loaded with a rebellious atmosphere and an almost Stoner-Metal or Heavy-Psych delivery (the latter never more apparent than on the band’s cover of Black Sabbath’s “Electric Funeral”). On the other hand, the tunes “Clockwatcher” and “Ride the Rusty Rig” are laid-back ballads that show another, more sensitive side to the group, and oddly enough, ended up being two of my favorite tracks.

Generally speaking, the material on this release delivers little in the way of innovation, but is rather perfect for when you need a good morning jolt or are in the mood for something loud, fun, and raunchy just to piss off the annoying neighbors. In other words, turn the volume up to eleven, bang your head, and let the Big Green Monster shake the rafters!

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