Having released two landmark country-rock albums in the late 70s, albums that have aged incredibly well over time, the pressure on the recently reformed STARS to come up with the goods on their comeback album must have been significant. That they have released an album that in many ways surpasses those landmark records in terms of song writing quality is quite an achievement. With ‘Boundary Rider’, STARS have released not only their best album to date, but also the 2018 Australian album of the year.
STARS have successfully managed to bring back the beautiful harmonies, infectious choruses, and driving riffs from their ‘Paradise ‘and ‘Land Of Fortune’ albums, while adding new flavours to their established sound.
Alongside Mick Pealing and Mal Eastick are other originals Glyn Dowding and Roger McLachlan. With acclaimed blues/roots player Nick Charles on second guitar there is no chance of any slack – and with decades of experience between them, STARS in 2018 are a finely tuned unit that exude professional competence.
The album opens in a big way with the rollicking ‘Time Stands Still’, a tell-tale tune that eulogises the history of the band up until the present day. When I hear those songs again time stands still. Great opener that really draws the listener into the album.
Euphemisms abound on the title track – from change, to freedoms fought for, the demise of a certain Australian way of life, selling out and much more. This is sublime country-rock with a big Mick Pealing vocal, layered harmonies and soulful guitar. If you need a reminder why STARS were often referred to as Australia’s answer to the Eagles, listen to this tune.
In the 70s, most of the band’s material was penned by Andy Durant and Mal Eastick. Although he passed away in 1980, the spirit of Durant looms large on this album, with four of his songs included, some finished off by Eastick. The other seven tunes were penned by Pealing and Charles. There’s an underlying theme of Australian antiquity to some of the material, yet it’s presented with a contemporary feel. In fact there’s a multiplicity to the songs on this album that reflect the sheer quality of song writing on display.
Throw a dart at any of the eleven tunes and you are guaranteed to hit a bulls-eye. The super melodic ‘My Day’, with its catchy chorus and west-coast vibe has hit single all over it and is beyond radio friendly. The hard rockin’ boogie of ‘Pick Up The Pieces’ is another winner that swaggers and rolls and is highlighted by some searing Eastick guitar work. Eastick’s playing on this album is, as always, enthralling. There’s a legitimacy to his playing that has earned him the reputation as “The Strat players Strat player.” Eastick is revered in many parts of the world – and rightly so. His guitar tone is unique and is music to my ears.
With a guitar that almost sings, the blues lament of ‘Drinking’ Alone’ is another winner, as is the rocking ‘Living A Lie’ a tune highlighted by Eastick’s punctuating guitar, singalong chorus and Pealing’s vocal. Pealing has one of the most distinctive and defined voices in Australian rock, and while pundits rave about whoever is the current flavour of the month in Nashville, I’ll take Mick Pealing any day of the week.
For want of a better term, ‘A Place In Your Heart’ is soft-rock supreme, ala early 70’s Linda Ronstadt / Poco etc. Again, this has hit single all over it. There are more potential hits on ‘Boundary Rider’ than I can find superlatives for. Suffice to say, if this album were released in Nashville the pundits would be falling over themselves. Which begs the question, why am I not hearing this on radio? This album is so good that it almost demands airplay.
If you want to hip a musically unsophisticated younger person to what real country rock ‘n’ roll is – or an older fan that needs a rock ‘n’ roll rejuvenation – give ‘em the gift of STARS this Christmas. 10 of out 10. The Australian album of 2018.
All content (c) Colin Gray 2018
Boundary Rider is out now from all the usual outlets and is also available on 180 gram vinyl. More information and tour dates go to www.starsofficial.com