SOUTHERN GENTLEMEN
"Valley of Fire"

(Leviathan)

01. Valley of Fire
02. The Sky is Falling
03. Devil In Me
04. Snake Flower
05. Trouble on the Road
06. End of the World
07. Hard Winter
08. Whiplash Girl
09. Dropping Anchor
10. Never Say Never
11. Bitter Harvest

RATING: 7/10

Fairly standard-issue rib-off rock on the face of it, but SOUTHERN GENTLEMEN dish up a little more passion and craft than your average local roadhouse warriors on this, their fourth long-player. The chops here are impeccable — David T. Chastain needs no introduction to anyone serious about the guitar, while vocalist Eric Johns slots in nicely next to Paul Rodgers and David Coverdale with his road-tested, world-weary whiteboy blues swagger.

The results aren't uniformly awesome, but the band never sucks – at worst, they get a little corny, as on boogie booger "Never Say Never". But for every moment of disinterest, there's a song like "The Sky Is Falling", strong and powerful with the kind of rough-hewn chorus and irresistible lead work that woulda put it all over FM radio in a different era. "Devil In Me" delivers sexual electricity in a slow bump-and-grind, while "End of the World" is a surprisingly reflective and high-minded lyrical rumination, mortality never far from Johns's mind. It's pretty soulful stuff, when Johns isn't leaning on fire/desire rhyming dictionary clichés; the man has a lot of promise as a storyteller.

It seems a little convenient to call this straight up blues, because it's too clean and polished for all that – maybe blues as filtered through the Guitar Institute of Technology, the same basic chords and conundrums rendered clean and pristine and blasted out through Chastain's metal-guy tone. It's not really all that southern, either, at least not in an old-school sense – but it is the kind of classic workingman's hard rock that would sound just awesome coming out of the speakers of a pickup tooling down the interstate on a hot summer evening with the windows down. Shred heads, classic rock holdouts, and guys who wear bandanas and 20-year-old BAD COMPANY tour shirts in a non-ironic fashion, unite, because your summer jam has come in.

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