Thursday, June 11, 2009

Firebird – Grand Union

Play this album for a friend but don’t tell them what year it was recorded. When they’re done moaning about how rock was so much better in the 1970’s you can let them know it’s the brand new record from Firebird and their fifth overall. It’s out in the UK on Rise Above and will be available in the US on Metal Blade on 6/23/09. For the uninitiated, Firebird plays pure 70’s power trio rock in the vein of The James Gang, Cream, Grand Funk Railroad, Groundhogs, Mountain, and ZZ Top. Lots of bands aspire to recreate the old sounds but Firebird is one of the few to capture the true groove of those bands. Plus they’re named after the awesome muscle car from Pontiac!

Guitarist Bill Steer has been leading Firebird for almost a decade now after his time with grindcore and death metal pioneers Napalm Death and Carcass. It’s always been interesting to me that people like Bill and Nicke Andersson (Entombed, Hellacopters) made the transition from extreme metal to extremely retro rock. They’ve also both recently gone back to their roots, with Bill participating in a Carcass reunion tour and Nicke putting together his Death Breath metal project.

Grand Union is Firebird’s first album since 2006’s excellent Hot Wings and opening song “Blue Flame” picks up right where they left off. There’s a bluesy guitar riff, plenty of cowbell and a double time jam at the end. What more could you want? The production on this album is great. Smok Smoczkiewicz’s bass has some of the best Ampeg SVT filth since Dusty Hill and Mel Schacher spanked the plank. The drums of Ludwig Witt are resonant, hard hitting and deep in the pocket. Then there’s the guitar tone. Bill Steer plays a Les Paul Junior just like his hero Leslie West did in Mountain and gets a lot of variety from a simple 1 pickup guitar. Bill’s vocals explore the region between Mark Farner and Steve Marriot while keeping in mind their heroes Howard Tate and Bobby Bland.

Another thing that sets Firebird apart from most of their contemporaries is that they keep their arrangements lean and mean. Most of the songs here are under 4 minutes. That’s very refreshing since so many other bands stretch things out so much these days. “Jack The Lad” is just over 2 minutes and leaves you wanting more. Slower songs like “Lonely Road” and “Release Me” have some moody organ playing that’s reminiscent of Grand Funk’s ballads.

The big surprises are the 3 cover songs. I’ve never heard James Taylor’s “Fool For You” (and I don’t want to either) but I bet it sounds nothing like this and doubt that it includes any Santana III-style congas. Bill’s harmonica gets a big work out on Duster Bennett’s swinging blues “Worried Mind.” The least surprising cover is “4 Day Creep,” an old Ida Cox blues song that Humble Pie tore up on the classic Performance: Rockin’ The Fillmore live album. You can tell these guys are having a blast jamming out like they’re playing in a garage and pissing off the entire neighborhood.

Firebird has UK tour dates this summer, hopefully they’ll come to the US later this year. As much as this record kicks ass, I just know they hit it a lot harder in front of an audience.

Buy here: Grand Union

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