|Musical Style: Blues Rock||Produced By: Rex Carroll|
|Record Label: Retroactive||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2010||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 10||Rating: 85%|
|Running Time: 38:49|
I could not think of a better title to a project involving guitarist Rex Carroll than That Was Then, This Is Now. THEN in terms of his earlier groups Whitecross and King James and the eighties influenced metal and hard rock in which they trended. Five highly acclaimed albums were recorded by the artist in Whitecross with vocalist Scott Wenzel before he joined forces with a new vocalist, Jimi Bennett, and put together King James. King James hit the scene in 1994 with its self-titled debut only to follow up three years later with the sophomore outing The Fall.
NOW in terms of his new group, The Rex Carroll Band, and the blues heavy rock of its aptly entitled 2010 Retroactive Records initial offering That Was Then, This Is Now. Rex, of course, is no stranger to the blues, having recorded his first blues album, The Rex Carroll Sessions, for Star Song Records in 1995. He later formed the Rex Carroll Band with some local musicians and began playing live throughout the upper Midwest, performing at venues ranging from local clubs to the Harley Davidson 100th Anniversary and going from virtual nobodies to headlining act status in the process.
Fans of the blues - Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Glenn Kaiser Band, Darrell Mansfield and Stevie & The Saints all come to mind – will find a lot to like in That Was Then, This Is Now. At this point it must be reinforced that the album does not gravitate towards the hard rock Rex is best known for; that said, it certainly is not without its heavier rock moments, as can be found on “Circle Of Love” (near mesmerizing riff on this one), “Witch Dr. Bones” (non-stop groove here) and “Throw Them Bonz” (by far the albums heaviest). “Find A Way” deserves mention as well for its straightforward mentality and “Working Man’s Blues” with its spirited and upbeat tempo. There are also a couple of pieces heading in a traditional blues rock direction, “Walk A Mile” and “Delta Memories”, along with two more on the slower side of things, the ballad-ish “Rock My World” and brilliantly melodic “My Train”.
My overall feeling is that it is great to finally hear another project from Rex Carroll, who, with the exception of the re-recording of Whitecross’ self-titled debut in 2005, has not really been heard from since the late nineties. Keeping this thought in mind, what I find particularly delightful about That Was Then, This Is Now is how it highlights his virtuoso guitar abilities (back in the day Rex won the “Heaven’s Metal Magazine Guitar Hero Award” several times over). The likes of “Find A Way”, “Working Man’s Blues and “Throw Them Bonz”, for instance, are blues rock all the way but feature stretches of shredding guitar soloing that would not sound out of place on a Whitecross album. Rex even delivers one of his trademark “open air” guitar solos (“Foolsgold”).
And this leads to one of my major points here: And that is NOT to rebuff That Was Then, This Is Now just because of the blues rock direction. Trust me, if you are into Whitecross – or any forms of eighties influenced metal and hard rock – then there is an excellent chance you are going to like this. The quality of music and musicianship is that high.
Speaking of performance, did I mention that Rex handles lead vocals here? And quite well at that in that his raspy and raw style vocal style melds well with the musical happenings at hand.
It must also be mentioned how the rhythm section of bassist Antonio Acevedo and drummer Gary Miller remained joined at the hip throughout the project, laying down a backbone of groove and presence for the band to rest its blues drenched sound upon.
Production values are ably done- polished, crisp and allowing all instrumentation to evenly rise above the mix.
“Find A Way” brings a blues rock mentality but accented by a crisp rhythm guitar. The song proves mid-paced in purpose, joining steady as it gets verses with a moving chorus aligning itself with the stalwart scene. The bass guitar comes to life at the start of an instrumental section upheld by a stretch of adept soloing only the artist is capable.
The pace picks up with “Circle Of Love”, a momentum driven piece upheld its full length by a near mirthful guitar riff. While maintaining the underlining heavy rock sensibilities, the song brings a steadfast capacity as a result of its curt and too the point chorus and commanding rhythm section performance.
The open air guitar solo “Foolsgold” might not be quite as explosive as “Nagasake” (from the self-titled debut) or stylistic as “Flashpoint” (off Triumphant Return) but still proves the artist has not lost his touch soloing wise. I guess you could say it is a bluesy take on the genre.
You can tell the group had a great deal of fun putting together “Working Man’s Blues”. From the non-stop rollicking impetus to the gritty blues drenched mentality to the shred guitar soloing (the lead work here is nothing less than jaw dropping) this one will have you singing along in no time.
Things get rawer and scratchier on “Walk A Mile”, a piece bringing a more traditional blues based sound as opposed to the heavier rock approach of those preceding it. A slight change in musical direction, however, does not mean the quality is any less in that the hook is solid and overall execution spot on.
“Rock My World” is the slowest of the albums material. The song exudes an emotional feel while still maintaining the group’s penchant for the blues heavy. Similar to “Walk A Mile”, there is not a drop in quality, reflected in Rex’s top of the line vocal performance (very moving and fitting to the mood at hand) and compelling melody.
The pace picks up with “Witch Dr. Bones”. This is actually one of the albums hardest rocking, almost bringing to mind Die Happy with its grooving bass lines and tempo (the only thing missing, of course, are the passionate vocals of Robin Kyle). Otherwise, the hook here is infectious – you will be challenged to keep this one out of your head! – and the dogged low end churning.
“Delta Memories” also gravitates towards traditional blues (sort of like Glenn Kaiser Band). With a scratchy rhythm guitar leading the way, the song traverses a jagged edge path in joining the right amount of upbeat flavorings with a steadfast perseverance. I enjoy how this one slowly fades out as Rex wails away on guitar in the background.
The album closes to two of its best songs in “My Train” and “Throw Them Bonz”.
“My Train” proves that when Rex Carroll is at the top of his game songwriting wise there are few better. The song brings six minutes of inspiration, slowly moving its length in acoustic laced fashion but with occasional outbursts of rhythm guitar making their presence felt. The expertly done chorus is poignantly charged in being upheld by a lush backdrop of female vocal melodies. The overall impression left is moving if not dramatic.
The same high quality can be found in “Throw Them Bonz”. This one heads in the more purposeful direction, spirited in tempo and underlined by a fixed guitar sound that is close to hard rock as it gets. There are some great instrumental moments here as well, including the airy instrumental interlude at the halfway point and the stretch of metal laced soloing upholding the final minute and a half.
If you are a fan of blues rock in all its forms – ranging from the traditional to the heavier and more rock orientated – then by all means make That Was Then, This Is Now a necessary purchase. Even if your musical tastes trend towards metal and hard rock then give this the chance it deserves due to Rex Carroll’s shred guitar presence and all around quality songwriting and performance. You will not be disappointed.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Find A Way” (4:34), “Circle Of Love” (3:18), “Foolsgold” (1:14), “Working Man’s Blues” (2:46), “Walk A Mile” (2:40), “Rock My World” (4:58), “Witch Dr. Bones” (5:01), “Delta Memories” (2:43), “My Train” (6:12), “Throw Them Bonz” (5:19)
Rex Carroll – Lead Vocals & Guitars
Antonio Acevedo - Bass
Gary Miller - Drums