How many people can you name who have bounced back recently quite like Glenn Hughes has? After suffering a setback with the demise of his previous group Black Country Communion, the ex-Deep Purple vocalist/bassist has returned all the stronger with a new band, rounded out by former BCC colleague Jason Bonham and 23-year-old guitar prodigy Andrew Watt. Moving away from the keyboard-tinged blues rock of his former band, this time the focus is on ‘proper rock’, as he terms it. The result is an album that demands to be slammed into the tape deck and taken for a spin. The band’s name? California Breed.
Hughes has never made his love of funk bass a secret and it’s out in full force on “California Breed”. ‘The Way’ showcases the album’s strong bass presence, as well as later in the somber ballad ‘All Falls Down’. Meanwhile, Bonham puts in a career-defining drumming performance throughout the album, chock-full of fills and even a drum intro and outro on the same song, ‘Midnight Oil’, the album’s fun-loving single. Watt is also firing on all cylinders, whether in the head-nodding riffs, the embrace of psychedelic tones in ‘Chemical Rain’ or the Hendrix homage in his solos. What comes across strongly as this album plays through is that the band are having fun in their ‘rock swagger’.
And the songs do swagger, whether in the swaying rhythm of ‘Invisible’, which recalls a little of Sabbath‘s doom, or ‘The Grey’ bordering on punk rock’s vibrant energy. Remarkably, the variety of styles never feels disjointed, despite jumping from power ballad to punk rock in the space of a song. The one consistency is in Hughes‘ throat; the oft-termed Voice of Rock lays down quite the gauntlet to modern bands and at 62, he can still let out a powerful scream or a catchy chorus, made all the more animated by having recorded them live with the band, rather than in retrospect. There were genuine goosebumps during the closing track, when he roars “I wanna breathe” and the song switches from acoustic strumming to full-on power ballad.
All that considered, “California Breed” is not an infallible release. For all the continuous hits, there are a couple of misses – ‘Strong’ is paradoxically the weakest song, lacking a driving hook in the chorus, while ‘Scars’ sounds a little too familiar in psychedelic formula to ‘Chemical Rain’ and is lacklustre compared to the stronger tracks on either side of it. However, neither of these are bad tracks per se, and your skip button will remain untouched throughout the runtime.
If you were ever in doubt about the state of rock music’s health nowadays, popping “California Breed” on will alleviate any such fears. All three musicians are at the top of their game and clearly having a blast while doing so. Hard rock fans old and new, get in on the party.