A real treat

With the intentionally simple title 4, Slash and his cohorts recorded in Nashville, with Grammy winning producer Dave Cobb, as opposed to Los Angeles for previous work. The vast majority of the tracks on the album were put down at the historic RCA Studio A, which was co-founded by late country music guitar legend, Chet Atkins.

The working relationship between Slash and Cobb stemmed from a mutual admiration for legendary producer Glyn Johns and while there’s undeniable links to Zeppelin in the final product, hints of country guitar stylings are also evident in some of Slash’s remarkable guitar solos.

As the album was recorded mostly live, it was quick work, with only a few tracks needing Kennedy to add vocals from quarantine. Of the band, only rhythm guitarist Frank Sidoris did not contract COVID-19 during the recording sessions, but even with the challenges that the pandemic presented, perseverance was rewarded, as the end result is a spectacular album with a great sense of spontaneity.

The River is Rising kicks off the album in swaggering rock style as Slash unleashes an octave alternating, tremolo picked riff. Bassist Todd Kerns and drummer Brent Fitz move the song with a John Bonham level of groove. The band is superbly tight as different parts segue, launching into a double time barrage as Slash either solos or synchronises variations of riffs with Sidoris. Throughout, Kennedy’s melodic vocal delivery has a projection and range that few can match in the hard rock and blues rock world. Time Will Tell is equally captivating with rock attitude, sustained chords, and accented notes bolstering a chorus. Kennedy dips into a touch of falsetto whilst Slash summons his best urgent sounding, Jimmy Page influenced guitar soloing. Plenty of musical tension and release at play here.

C’est la Vie is one of several album highlights with Slash employing a talk box to enhance a tasty guitar riff. The next track, The Path Less Followed, is a more vocal driven piece but the soloing again uses an array of Slash’s signature techniques such as large bends and nifty picking of passing notes between intervals. In other words, classic Slash, with a taste of Southern rock.

The wah-wah pedal gets a workout on the track Actions Speak Louder than Words. The chord progression that combines elements of blues and rock standards, melding into a descending rhythm interlude before another vibrato filled guitar solo. Another album highlight is the funky, Zeppelin styled Spirit Love, complete with a fuzzy bassline and the wondrous brilliance of an electric sitar played through a Marshall stack. The pace is suitably mesmerising to allow the riff to flow and whilst Kennedy is impressive here, Slash’s solo is reminiscent of the ‘snake-charming’ passages of Ritchie Blackmore, with a Dick Dale level of aggression, a slew of speedy trills and a touch of neoclassical counterpoint to end with a fiery tremolo picked lick.

On the very Guns N’ Roses styled track, April Fool, Slash leans into the riff as the band hit the chordal accents in time. The guitar tone has serious bite, especially in the solo, where Slash drops in some nuanced country guitar licks. Imitators rarely pick up on that aspect of Slash’s box of signature guitar tricks. A wall of sound ensues with Call Off the Dogs as the rhythm figure changes as the verse kicks in, accompanied by a rock-attitude drenched riff from Slash. Kennedy quickly reaches the soaring chorus and, being recorded live, you can hear Slash trilling between guitar pickup, playing the solo with amazing dexterity, adding some twists to more traditional rock and roll licks.

Concluding the album with a song that is almost six and half minutes on a generally taught album is as epic as expected. Fall Back to Earth is a swirling track that quickly climbs to an all-encompassing melody guitar line. Abruptly changing to a clean, phased guitar sound for the verse offers space for Kennedy’s vocals to shine. Increasing intensity leads to a reprise of the aforementioned melody figure under the chorus. Flowing between levels of density beautifully segues into a dual guitar interlude before repeating the chorus that lets Kennedy’s vocal performance find notes that melds with Slash’s playing that closes out the track with haunting effect.

4 is done and dusted in just under 45 minutes but it feels like much deeper listening experience. Nothing is over excessive on this album, it is all amazingly tight and hits the mark on pretty much every track. The live band room feel is evident throughout, as it the fantastic spatial mix where instruments sit in the sonic spectrum with clarity. Put simply, on 4, the cat in the hat packs a punch, without any fat. We can feasibly expect to see this album in numerous end-of-year albums lists. Pardon the pun, but hats off to Slash and friends for this latest album. It’s a treat.

The River is Rising
Time Will Tell
C’est la Vie
The Path Less Followed
Actions Speak Louder than Words
Spirit Love
Fill My World
April Fool
Call Off the Dogs
Fall Back to Earth