Listening to Glenn Hughes in 2014, it’s difficult to believe he’s 62. Since 1967, he’s worked with, most famously, Trapeze, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath (sort of), Kings of Chaos, and Black Country Communion, just to scratch the surface. The fact he’s a rock and roll survivor is a bit of a miracle after a lifetime of substance abuse and last year’s heart surgery to replace an aortic valve and its subsequent complications.
Speaking of Black Country Communion, the drummer for that outfit was Jason Bonham, the very visible son of John. Born in 1966, now aged 47, he has carried on the tradition of his father’s Led Zeppelin legacy while working with elder statesmen of rock like, well, Glenn Hughes. Now, in the wake of Black Country Communion’s demise, Hughes and Bonham have reached out to yet another generation to include 23-year-old guitarist/singer-songwriter Andrew Watt to form a power trio called California Breed.
Judging from the writing credits on their self-titled debut, California Breed sees itself as a collective of equals, at least in the songwriting department. According to publicity for the CD, Hughes claims that after an introduction by Julian Lennon, the first day he worked with Watt, the pair wrote two songs destined for the album, “Chemical Rain” and (bonus track) “Solo.” Then Hughes called Bonham and producer Dave Cobb. Their subsequent project was launched with all possible fanfare. After all, not every unknown band has its first release issued with a deluxe edition in a glossy digipak with a bonus track, bonus DVD including video clips for the singles “Sweet Tea” and “The Way,” and a making of the album documentary. Of course, any new outfit featuring Hughes and Bonham is going to spark considerable interest in the heavy metal/hard rock community, and the threesome is already earning more than its fair share of accolades from that crowd.
It’s worth noting that while California Breed is a trio, their debut doesn’t sound like one. That’s due, of course, to double-tracking of Hughes’ vocals and Watt’s guitar parts. While it’s clear Watt is simpatico with Hughes and Bonham, this disc isn’t going to get anyone comparing him to the legendary axemen of rock’s past and present. Instead, credit Watt with re-energizing two rock legends and adding that energy to the mix. The emphasis is on the songs, not extended solo jams, so Watt is essentially a fine rhythm guitarist supporting Hughes’ pyrotechnic vocals.
Some listeners may feel a “been there, done that” vibe to the set, but that familiarity is just what many heavy metal fans hope for. Beyond the polished, hard-driving performances, it’s the musicality of the material that is either going to appeal strictly to established Hughes/Bonham fans or reach out to a wider audience. For my tastes, few songs are all that memorable. For my money, the group jells together best on “Midnight Oil” and “Spit You Out.” If you want a slightly softer sound, there’s the emotional “All Falls Down.” I can easily understand why “The Way” and “Sweet Tea” were chosen as songs released early to promo the full album. The rest of the set, well, two listens didn’t prompt me to go for a third.
I can’t attest to the quality of the bonus features on the deluxe edition, but anyone interested in diving into the story can wander around the net for interviews and videos. It’s all “Sweet Tea” for those who like their tea without milk and sugar but heavy on the caffeine.[amazon template=iframe image&chan=default]