Following the inevitable demise of Motörhead, where the remaining members of the long serving trio would take their talents was unknown.
Powerhouse drummer Mikkey Dee is currently providing his skills to the Scorpions on their never-ending farewell jaunt. Meanwhile, no-nonsense Welsh guitarist Phil Campbell has been busy not just with his Bastard Sons project with his three sons, but with this long-awaited solo album. The results are very good indeed, bolstered further by a host of guest musicians, most notably in the vocals department. Of course, his three sons, Todd, Tyla and Dane provide additional guitar, bass and drums on several of the tracks so once could argue this release is not strictly a solo album since the Bastard Sons band is embedded within the album.
Kicking things off on this musical adventure is the relaxed and laidback, part anecdote, part mission-statement Rocking Chair. It sets the mood well, hinting at the variety of things to come. Not the rock bombast hard rock and metal aficionados might expect just makes it all the more interesting and Welsh singer Leon Stanford’s timbre suits the strummed acoustic guitar tones. Some gentle slide guitar, plucked banjo, piano parts and a melodic arpeggiated post-chorus part creates a track that wouldn’t be out of place on a Keith Richards or Springsteen album with a tasteful blues joint, Americana jangle to it.
Fear not, rock fiends, because the next three tracks are solid, thumping rock and roll brawlers. Straight Up features a slightly restrained Rob Halford bringing a raspy attitude alongside the front and centre mixed descending chordal riff. Sharp attack, an expansive catchy chorus, an open verse rhythm guitar sound and great use of the spatial dynamics make this memorable, with a nifty outro guitar solo. By comparison, Ben Ward of Orange Goblin pushes next track Faith in Fire into a combination of Cathedral and Black Sabbath as the lumbering doom groove pounds along.
As far as attitude is concerned, the Alice Cooper fronted track Swing It is the album highlight. Pure rock vibe ensues with that subdued menacing sneer that only Motörhead could match in their day. Cooper bassist Chuck Garric pushes Dane Campbell’s drums to a hammering rhythm section. Campbell throws in as many lead guitar embellishments as the track will allow between cranking out the dirty, circular and percussive riff. A change of pace comes with the ballad Left for Dead with none other than Mark King from Level 42 on bass duties. This has all the hallmarks of a radio hit from a bigger band, but the vocal delivery is more authentic. The southern rock feel to it is subtle enough and the arrangements are very well done. It’s an example of the depth of experience that Campbell possesses as a musician which the average listener would be surprised to learn that the long serving guitarist of Motörhead would deliver such a track.
A turn towards punk rock comes with Walk the Talk with bass contributions from Nick Oliveri plus co-vocals with Danko Jones and drums from Ray Luzier of Steel Panther. It is a staggered, almost reverse shuffle feel, These Old Boots rocks hard with the indefatigable Dee Snider delivering paint-stripping vocals and the perennial Mick Mars from Mötley Crüe providing a pitch shifted, high gain yet apt guitar solo of diving notes and squealing motifs. Chris Fehn hammers the kit, working the floor toms and adding some cowbell to boot.
The last hard rock track on the album is Dancing Dogs (Love Survives) and sees Campbell useing deep reverb and some wah pedal to add gravitas to the sustained and trilled guitar solo. The main song riff has a direct groove metal, Alice in Chains style of delivery. Whitfield Crane’s singing here is very reminiscent of the late Layne Staley, with plenty of reverb added to the vocal track. Rounding out the album, Dead Roses has a very wispy, 70s ballad feel to it with a piano based chord progression, blues based guitar melody lines, backing vocal harmonies and a remarkably soulful vocal performance from Benji Webbe of Skindred. Campbell’s guitar parts here are haunting and, with the tone rolled back, offer up a strong blues sensibility with a hint of rhythm and blues.
Campbell further demonstrates his aptitude for creative, unexpected song writing tangents and his expansive skills on guitar on the final track Tears From a Glass Eye. A combined piano and keyboard sonic bed provides a bass line and the melodic theme to gently guide the floating guitar harmonies which include all seeing, all knowing guitar god Joe Satriani. Overlapping guitar parts are breezily executed with plucked lines offering a sense of spontaneity and mood. It is understated, emotive and quite beautiful piece of music. As harmonics similar to Satch’s Echo ring out to the final chord of this masterful acoustic track, the deeper appreciation of unexpected musical ideas on this album is reinforced.
Phil Campbell has attracted some excellent guest musicians to this solo album, but it is a credit to the man on his ability to have creates such a great album and allocated appropriate talent to his songs. The guitarist has triumphed on Old Lions Still Roar. Lions don’t just roar, they also prowl, hunt, protect their cubs and know how to use energy judiciously. Be thankful Campbell didn’t retire at the end of the Motörhead. This solo album provides a stunning selection of music with a wealth of variety that should be heard by many different music genre fans. Lemmy would be proud.
1. Rocking Chair
2. Straight Up
3. Faith in Fire
4. Swing It
5. Left for Dead
6. Walk the Talk
7. These Old Boots
8. Dancing Dogs (Love Survives)
9. Dead Roses
10. Tears From a Glass Eye