In an age when rock ‘n’ roll ain’t at the top of the heap no more – its only right and just that you get down on your knees and give thanks that artists of the calibre of Warner E. Hodges are still out their making bona fide rock ‘n’ roll – and truly great, original rock ‘n’ roll at that.
You can also forget the mandatory descriptors that readers look for in a review that help determine whether they purchase or not – all you need to know is that this is one MONSTER of a rock album – and one of THE releases of 2017 – or any damn year in fact.
The good folks at Mayfair Grand Music (MGM) forwarded this new Warner E. Hodges album to me a couple months back. I’ve had a whole lot of life stuff get in the way – resulting in a way overdue review. Yet unlike other albums, which I may have reviewed after only a couple of spins – ‘Right Back Where I Started’ has been on unending rotation with me these past few weeks – I know these ten tunes backwards – so without any further hindrance – let me say right off the bat that this is pretty much THE consummate rock/guitar album – and without a doubt the most rock solid, indeed accomplished solo album Hodges has released.
As early as April, I shrewdly selected Dan Baird & Homemade Sin’s ‘Rollercoaster’ and Baird’s solo album ‘So-Lo’ as the albums of the year. A big call with only a quarter of the year done, but I was proven right. ‘Right Back Where I Started’ sits comfortably alongside those couple and easily makes my top 5 for 2017.
There are ten tunes on ‘Right Back Where I Started’ and no sign of filler. Top to bottom – this is one solid outing. Thematically – the title tune sees Hodges looking back at his life in rock ‘n’ roll – and how he’s come full circle. It’s a foot to the floor, raucous rocker that swaggers and rocks a plenty. Rippin’ solo too. ‘Where Did You Go’ follows a similar theme – with Hodges asking where did rock rock ‘n’ roll go ? Purists like us also ask the same question – yet with cats like Hodges, Joe Blanton and Dan Baird around – I’m here to tell you that there’s life in the old girl yet.
With its sing-along chorus, ‘Ghost On The Road’ grooves along nicely. This is a great song highlighted by some distinctive drum fills, likeable solos, layered vocals and even some subtle organ. If you turned on the radio you’d be forgiven for thinking this was Skynyrd. Top shelf.
The blue denim shuffle of ‘Waiting On Me’ rocks and rollicks – highlighted by a searing Hodges solo and a vocal that sees Hodges pushing himself and singing his heart out.
The hard rockin’ ‘Sick Of Myself’ hits you in the gut like a great rock song should. Bitchin, dog eared tune that reminds me a lot of Mick Taylor era Stones and, if I’m pressed, my personal fave off the album.
There’s a multiplicity to the songs on this album that reflect the sheer quality of song writing on display. ‘I’m Never Alone’ is a great example of this – and a great example to all of what a melodic pop song should be. Mid-tempo highlighted by a memorable and unique riff, plaintive and strong vocal delivery on the verses and then into a super catchy chorus, a lot of instrumentation and layered with harmony vocals. Super production too. Man, this has ‘hit’ written all over it. Radio programmers are you listening?
Talking of hits, check out Hodge’s country duet with Elizabeth Cook on ‘Worst Time For Love’. You may know her from her tune of a few years back, ‘El Camino’. Again, super strong chorus with Cook’s vocal contrasting neatly with Hodges, and further evidence of rich song writing diversity.
The album closes with the Faces/Stones/Quo groove of ‘Dirt’, another winner. Penned by Otis Gibbs (who also has a great podcast by the way) this rocker (complete with rock n roll piano) is a great album closer – and rounds out proceedings nicely. Last orders please!
Although this is a Hodges solo album – the other two main songwriters/contributors to the project are Dan Baird and Joe Blanton. All three bring different parts to the table – yet all contribute songs, their talent as musicians, producers and in Blanton’s case – engineering skills. (How is that solo album progressing Joe?) All three are rock n roll with a capital R and with ‘Right Back Where I Started’ have created a ‘classic’ rock record that will sound great in 5, 10, 50 years.
Cheap Trick’s Tom Peterson adds his individual bass sound to the album with Brad Pemberton (Steve Earle’s band) hitting hard on the drums. Great drummer (as anyone who as seen him perform live will attest).
I must also make mention of the amazing cover art, an outstanding photo (by Trudi Knight) which captures Hodges at one with his Les Paul. Great moment captured on film and as an album cover, it makes a defining statement.
If you want to hip a musically unsophisticated younger person to what real rock n roll is – or you are an older rock fan that needs a rock n roll rejuvenation – give ‘em the gift of Warner E. Hodges rock n roll. Ten out of ten.