Rival Sons – The Hardest Working Band on The Planet

Who cares about awards? You make the list of nominations and the whole media circus starts. Interviews, junkets, parties, exposure, fame. Making it onto playlists on streaming platforms, more views, more plays, more sales of the album or single you’ve been nominated for. A happier record company and manager, a reason to pat yourself on the back, to get some more recognition from your peers.

What’s not to like? Nothing at all it seems. If it’s your debut album it must be amazing but then the expectation for the second must be colossal. What happens if it’s your third, fourth or even sixth album? Was the rest of your output as a band suddenly unworthy? Were they at best stepping stones to this golden pantheon of achievement?

What if somehow the recognition stems from a single that you didn’t have that much faith in, or perhaps it was a more commercial one that you included just because you knew it would hit the zeitgeist and get you some exposure. Do you feel a fraud or is this the necessary evil of the modern music industry?

Do you do what MGMT did and bring out an album you don’t see as creatively yours just to get the right to play what you like? Actors often force their way onto a film by taking on a contract for another three that they might not want to make. Rehashing another sequel just to get a chance to work with a decent director or take on a role they’d never normally be considered for.

The rationale is that no matter how many Rocky or Rambo sequels Stallone had to make he’ll always have Cop Land. Ever since Robert Johnson took his guitar to the crossroads there’s been an element of selling your soul to the Devil to get success in possibly the most fickle of industries.

How do you feel as a band if you graft all your career by being out on the road for 200 or more nights a year, bring out a studio album every 18 months and still get no recognition? Then you bring out one single that catapults into the mainstream and the money and the fame and awards. Is it a natural reward for all that work or is it the whims of the musical press and the movers and the shakers suddenly hitting on what you’ve done and becoming king maker?

If the album or single that’s got you the award then becomes what people expect of you as a band can you change without risk of reprisal? Do you alienate the fans that have been with you since your tentative but heartfelt debut? Striking that balance of being true to what you love, what you want to make, the music that naturally comes when you pick up your guitar, and making it.

The best bands have to be those that get both. They are their sound. They stay on course and they make their own record. That is the record that sells, those tracks sell the tickets, that inherent soul is what earns the band their money, their recognition and their fame. If some shiny trophies and little statues come with it then enjoy that and look forward to that full and groaning mantelpiece.Chase just those trophies and you might get them but at what cost?

Handily there is a band that typifies the often overused moniker “hard working” and has proper blue collar bones. They exemplify that band that sticks to their roots, their heart and their sound. The Rival Sons are a (largely) four piece band out of Long Beach, California. They are absolutely not in the MGMT, Sly Stallone, Robert Johnson mould.

Their first EP is 10 years old in June, and the eponymous release is as good now as it was then. It absolutely rips out of the starting blocks with “Get What’s Coming” with a rock, blues, freight train momentum. It’s outro on the short but oh-so-sweet six-track EP is “Soul”. It’s a paired down soul scourer. If “Get What’s Coming” is Happy Hour then “Soul” is the empty bar with the house lights up, bottles and glasses on the beer soaked tables.

In six short tracks the band put in an interview that should have nailed them down as the next American rock band. The debut album took a slightly more sun drenched California feel but then albums two and three, “Pressure and Time” and “Head Down” blend the two vibes perfectly. They have some deeper tracks that focus on lead singer Jay Buchanan’s Native American roots, they have “Jordan” which is even more introspective than “Soul” was and as ever, some full bore blues rock that carries their natural, up tempo sound. Their first four releases easily carry the range and quality of the likes of Led Zeppelin’s but with none of the mainstream recognition.

Don’t get me wrong, there has been critical recognition. A performance at the Classic Rock awards, in front of peers, labels, managers and a certain couple with the surname Osbourne led to the band being booked to support Black Sabbath on The End tour in 2013. They’ve also been out on tour with the Rolling Stones and are currently out and about with Messrs Tyler and Perry supporting Aerosmith.

Some seriously big names love these guys but your average guy in the street somehow missed the memo. Maybe a move away from a smaller more punk and hardcore label like Earache has helped. Low Country Sound are an imprint of Elektra run by Dave Cobb and if “Feral Roots” is anything to go by they absolutely get this band. The single choices are much improved. This is often a blend of responsibility between the band and the label but “Head Down” saw the release of “Until the Sun Comes” which was comfortably the weakest track they could have released. “Feral Roots” gets “Too Bad” and “Do Your Worst” which are comfortably the best.

The Grammy nominations were Best Rock Album for “Feral Roots” and Best Rock Performance for “Too Bad”. They were pipped to both by Gary Clark Jr which as defeat goes could be a lot worse. Gary is a stellar musician in real pomp and swagger right now so it was a tough category to get a hold on.

Here’s hoping that some of the people having a look down the list of nominations see the name Rival Sons, hit Spotify and just thoroughly enjoy themselves. If it’s 10 years late then it’s better late than never, and here’s to the next nominations, and the next bunch of new fans.

Article by James Clinch

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