I’ve said it before on many occasions, but I make no bones about the fact that the ‘70s was a golden age of music. Arguably we’re living in one right now, but pick a year – any year – from the 1970s and just take a look at the quality and quantity of classic albums released. A quick look at, say, 1976 saw albums by Lynyrd Skynyrd, Genesis, Rush, Kiss, Thin Lizzy, Wishbone Ash, Jethro Tull, AC/DC, Rainbow, Aerosmith – the list goes on and on. The point is that it was a great time for music, and the decade in which so much of what we all love was created.
Stone Axe is clearly a band that looks to that decade for inspiration; in fact, both of the Stone Axe albums featured in this review play like a night when you invite all of your favourite bands to visit. It’s joyous and infectious, a celebration of music at its essential best; simple, straight forward, enjoyable. Nothing is too complicated and everything works.
“Captured Live! Roadburn Festival 2011” is arguably where this music works best. Whether that’s due to the really great ‘70s live albums/bands setting a precedent, or because amplified music should be heard live is debatable; either way, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable experience for the listener. The stripped down, almost basic sound is a pleasure and each song is short enough to raise your adrenaline but not so long that it loses your attention. Once upon a time, songs were 3 minutes long, and while Stone Axe songs come in slightly longer than that, it forces the band to say everything that needs to be said concisely, comprehensively and efficiently. It’s music that connects on a basic level: you’re not left contemplating the overt cleverness on display by the musicians; rather, you just go with the rhythm and melody on a visceral level. It talks to your heart as much as it does to your head.
As with any good live album, there are plenty of songs (15 in fact) so you’ll never feel short changed by the quantity. And of the 15, each brings something slightly different to this classic rock party. Pick a few highlights to understand what Stone Axe are all about and ‘Diamonds And Fools’ combines Saxon’s ‘Strong Arm Of The Law’ with “High Voltage”-era AC/DC. It exudes energy and a genuine love for the inspirational source: we’re all on the same page with our passion, a bunch of friends gathered together to party.
‘There’d Be Days’ is infused with the spirit of country rock, a foot-tapping slice of southern boogie if there was one. The chorus has a lovely hook and you can’t help but smile like a loon when you hear it. ‘We Know It’s Still Rock n Roll’ might have been written by Bon Scott or Alice Cooper (or The Sweet or The Tubes) with its cheeky 12 bar refrain and a chorus that the crowd just has to join in with. There’s no messing around here; it’s just seriously good time rock n roll.
Things take a darker turn with ‘Return Of The Worm’, a heavier song with a pounding riff and lyrics that suggest a need for vengeance. ‘On With The Show’ has an AC/DC-like riff and sweet vocal harmonies and takes on the post-modern, self-regarding task of the band singing about the band.
“Stone Axe II” is the studio album here and gives the listener some of their sound in a slightly more polished form: the vocals are a bit higher in the mix, for example. Originally released in April 2011, there is some crossover of songs between this and the live album, but that’s as you would expect. They’ve been going since 2007 so the live album is a showcase of the musical life of the band. What is notable is that they appear to be a two piece in the studio, expanding to four when they perform live.
Styles and influences expand further on this album. ‘Those Were The Golden Years’ wears its Thin Lizzy influences on its sleeve, its title acting as a celebration and maybe a little melancholy: those really were the golden years. Thankfully Stone Axe is here to help us celebrate them. ‘One More Time Before I Die’ sees guitarist Tony Reed in 12 string Townshend mode as the intro builds up to a low key, restrained but enjoyable guitar work out. I defy anyone not to love this short instrumental.
Again, there is material here in abundance on this release, with no less than 25 songs. Seriously, this band gives you lots and then a bit more.
So if you love classic rock (and if don’t, what’s wrong with you?) you will adore Stone Axe. Both of these albums will get your feet tapping and put a smile on your face. This is as much fun as you will have had in ages so get out there and buy yourself a Stone Axe album.