Brad Wilson is a proud practitioner of the wall-of-sound variety of blues-rock. His first solo CD opens with a straight blues, “Black Coffee At Sunrise,” but most of the LA rocker’s songs (he wrote all thirteen) are in the blue-eyed tradition of the Allmans and Lynyrd Skynyrd, with a solid blues foundation underlying pop-rock chord changes and a no-holds-barred rock vibe sustained by lots of big guitars and keyboards. Wilson’s voice and guitar work are both very strong, and his band cranks.
The arrangements are great and the production is wonderfully clear and full. But the songwriting isn’t strong enough. Subject matter is one issue: the world probably already has enough songs about how driving on the open road makes you feel free, and Wilson’s entries into that beaten-to-death category, like the Who-like “Hands On The Wheel” and “Rocket,” only make you think of classic (and better) road songs like “Born To Be Wild” and “Midnight Rider” (or even “Goin’ Mobile”). But “Rocket,” for example, is worth listening to for its killer instrumental break. And that illustrates the CD’s main problem, which is that the riffs and soundscapes are a lot more memorable than the melodies.
“Sundown And The Cowboy,” though overly derivative, is probably the best non-blues song on the CD, something like Bob Seger crossed with ZZ Top. “Got the Feeling” is a keyboard-heavy rocker with lots of energy but no real hook. In “Last Call” Wilson slows down for a soulful evocation of common-man romance, delivering a beautiful vocal performance, but there’s no real chorus – he keeps you hanging, waiting for a payoff that never comes. “All Kinds Of A Fool” is a swinging bluesy number that suffers from the same lack of climax; in spite of the powerful, emotionally charged singing, I’d rather listen to him solo for that four minutes and nineteen seconds.
“Cruisin’ the Coast” is another song about driving, but it’s much better than the other road songs at evoking the beautiful and dramatic California coast – and it’s an instrumental. It’s followed by “Southern Cali Girl,” an attempt at romantic heartland rock a la Bruce Springsteen.
“Slide On Over” has a funky groove and twang that owes a lot to Stevie Ray Vaughan and something to the Doobies too, and Wilson leaves no doubt that he’s a master of this sub-style as well as all the others he tries. A journeyman rocker, having fronted Stone, his touring band, for many years, he’s also an accomplished studio musician, and his recordings have been featured on TV and film. But as a solo artist, he could channel his enormous abilities into better songs. Then, instead of opening for Derek Trucks, .38 Special and Cheap Trick, he’d be headlining alongside them. And I’d like to see that, I really would.