Way back in 1990 I was still in the throes of the "hair metal" era. I was only a few years along my path of musical discovery and years away from any true progression. Grunge was still a few years off and I had a rather narrow view of what I liked in music. Rap? Forget it. Metal? Too heavy. Country? What a joke. That left me at the doorstep of bands like Def Leppard, Poison, Warrant, Skid Row, and Winger (yes, you read that right). No, there is nothing wrong with liking them and I am not here to defend my stance. What this is leading to is my first exposure to a guitarist names Bill Leverty. I first encountered him with a catchy hair metal riff in a song called "Don't Treat Me Bad" as a member of the band Firehouse.
That song got under my skin, and while I cannot say it is a great song (I am sure event he band would agree), but it is one I liked enough to buy the cassingle of (remember those?). I would play it ad nauseum for a day or two before giving it a rest. The guitar riff was infectious, the solo was solid, and the nasal, slightly whiny vocals of CJ Snare offered something different from the other bands out there. As much as I enjoyed their self-titled debut album, I quickly forgot about them and many other bands of the era as the grunge era stepped in followed by my taste expansion that has gone out in all directions over the past decade or so.
With all that said, it came as a surprise when I saw this new release from Firehouse's guitarist Bill Leverty. It is a solo album that shows a distinctly different side. The music is not of the big arena rock variety, nor is it the shredding solo release that some players are want to do to show they are more than they may seem to be in the band. Well, that last bit is partially accurate for Deep South. It is most definitely not a shredder album, you will have to look elsewhere for that; however, this album, that strikes me as a deeply personal one, is one that shows a different side of the Firehouse axe-man and definitely shows a different side of his skills and ability. Much like it took me more than a decade into my music listening life to truly find what music I loved, it has taken nearly two decades for Bill Leverty to record an album that shows him outside of Firehouse.
Deep South is a collection of 10 songs culled from the Southern United States and were primarily written in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Some of them have been rocked up a bit, but they still retain a traditional air to them. The songs and their performances bring to mind the likes of ZZ Top and the Allman Brothers. Leverty performs all of the instruments (save a couple tracks featuring female vocals, which were performed by Kristina Leverty and harmonica on "Man of Constant Sorrow"). In addition to electric guitar, a number of different instruments including dobro, guitarele (a combination guitar/ukelele), mandolin, lap steel guitar, and banjo. The result is an album that has a familiar, yet distinct experience.
This is a solid collection that is hard not to groove to. It has an easy going flow as we work through songs that sound fresh despite having been written more than a century ago. Production value is strong as the variety of instruments are all clear and discernible throughout the mix while the vocals are never hard to hear.
As I listen to the album, it is hard to pull out single songs to highlight as everything is uniformly solid. Each song bringing a slightly different feel to the table while as they all represent a common source. If push came to shove, I would have to recommend "Run On" which has a smooth flow and a serious nature, along with the rocked up "Samson and Delilah," then there is "Walk Beside Me" with its inviting acoustic guitar, not to be left out is "Wade in the Water" which has a very old school/new school feel with its traditional chorus combined with the electrified verse.
Now, I would be remiss if I did not mention "Man of Constant Sorrow," the one song I was familiar with prior to this album. How did I know this song? That's easy, I am a big fan of the Coen Brothers' O, Brother Where Art Thou?, where the song played something of an important role. This is a different arrangement, a bit more modern sounding while still being instantly recognizable and insanely catchy.
As I mentioned earlier, this seems like a very personal album. The liner notes talk about the album's artwork, created by his grandfather. He also speaks of his grandfather's love for the South ad how he meticulously crafted these wood carvings and transferred them to paper. He also writes about wanting to bring awareness to the music of this region and era. Bill Leverty's love for the material and the obvious inspiration of his grandfather is something to be admired, his care in those areas translated to a high quality album that puts focus on the old material just as it does the talent of the performer.