Stonebreed’s self-titled debut album starts off by telling the story of a man returning home to Texas after years on the run from the authorities. I don’t know if it’s the lyrical content or that I’m just hungry, but it all puts me in mind of a really good Texas-style barbecue sauce: dark, rich, tangy, heavy– but not too heavy. And like a proper barbecue sauce, the care and craftsmanship taken in composition and production are evident in the flavors of the final product. You’ll taste undertones of Aerosmith, Van Halen, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and others, but the blend– as with most great sauces– is uniquely Stonebreed’s own.
The band describes their sound as “a unique blend of hard rock with a Southern kick,” and those influences are most apparent in Carlos Bates Cruz’s lead vocals and the harmonizing on tracks such as “Back Home” and “My Last Dollar.” He belts forth lyrics about money lost, love lost, and freedom lost with the mildest twang– think Hollywood by way of Baton Rouge, which, actually, isn’t far from Cruz’s actual biography. This is a voice that convinces you that he’s been there, and he knows just how you feel.
As much as I enjoy Cruz’s vocals, though, I think the real strength for this band lies in the instrumentation. Stonebreed has been together and performing live since 2009, and they took more than nine months to produce this debut, released for download in November 2012. In short, they’ve had time to learn what works for them as a band and put it into practice.
And what works for this group is balance. Dave Eggers and Steve Sampson’s guitar lines blend seamlessly and combine with Boads’ bass to create a big sound. You’ll tune in for some solid lead solos, but you’ll stay for the chord-driven rhythm guitar lines like the ones behind “Miss Me” and “Roses on My Grave.” Chris Torrey’s drums bring energy and provide a strong foundation across all tracks, but without overpowering. So many bands seem to operate as a support system for a lead vocalist and or guitarist, it’s always refreshing to hear a group that understands they’re better as a whole rather than the sum of many parts.
Note: This track order is taken from the listing in the Stonebreed store on reverbnation.com. It appears to be a different order than the one offered via iTunes. Previews available on Stonebreed’s site for linked tracks (also marked with asterisk for your convenience).
1) Back Home
I love this opening riff. Somehow, it manages to be dark and heavy but also fun.
High energy. I liked this one for the most part, but the chorus leaves me a little cold. I think I should like the shout of “break!” more than I actually do.
3) Except Me
The Skynyrd influence is most apparent on this track, but not so much in an imititative way– more like a very effective modernization.
4) I’m Gone
Melodic and bluesy– once again proving that I am capable of loving a good ballad.
5) Judgment Day*
A Clint Eastwood movie in song form. Classic metal scream in the bridge, which is always fun.
6) Last Dollar*
I know I mentioned it above, but the harmonizing in the chorus is a little detail that balances the hard guitar licks and results in a timeless rock sound.
7) Miss Me
From the opening hook to the soulful vocal, this is a smoother, more melodic track– but there’s nothing I don’t love about it.
8) Roses on My Grave
On this track, the Aerosmith influence is most apparent– but more heartfelt in the delivery.
9) Shoot You Down
Lyrics and grinding guitars to help you work out your anger through rock n’ roll and metaphorical shooting. Let’s stay safe out there, people.
10) Wax Dreams
Acoustic blues-toned intro, plenty of echo for maximum dreaminess.
11) Whiskey Well
I love the themes driving this song, and verses and musicality are good. But the delivery of the chorus– maybe it’s the combination of rhythm with the word choices– just didn’t quite work fully for me.