Rex Brown, ‘Smoke On This …’ – Album Review
With the flick of a lighter and his gravelly-voiced spoken words "Smoke on this," Rex Brown lights things up pretty quickly on the opener "Lone Rider." For those expecting something in the vein of Pantera on Brown's new solo album, Smoke On This ..., you may not find a sound totally reminiscent of Brown's most well known band, but you will definitely find the attitude that the legendary group brought to the stage.
In "Lone Rider," Brown promises, "I take whatever I want," and what he takes here is your complete attention with classic rocking riffs filled with swagger that hit you smack dab in the face. He doesn't let up either with the follow-up track "Crossing Lines," a bluesy Zeppelin-esque rocker with a slow-moving groove as Brown warns the listener, "You can't take it back, give it back, remember you crossed a line with me."
The first sign of significant variance comes in the stellar third song on the album, "Buried Alive." Opening with a more acoustic guitar open, the track eventually finds a perfect balance as it alternates between aggressive, sludgy guitar-driven verses and more melodic center. That dichotomy of sounds also plays well against the songs message, as Brown goes more introspective, reflecting on the loss of Dimebag Darrell and his own struggles coming to terms and finding his real self again.
"Train Song" lives up to its moniker, with a wall of guitar aggression chugging along and conjuring images of a train's patter with its beat. Meanwhile, "Get Yourself Alright" keeps things in a more upbeat vein, albeit with a fresh sound from the early part of the album. A dreamlike spiraling guitar and affected vocals give "Get Yourself Alright" a more psychedelic feel in parts. But amidst all the dreamy qualities, you can't miss the swagger with Brown suggestively offering, "I want to bring you to life."
The back portion of Smoke On This ... finds Brown varying things up a bit more. "Fault Line" is the album's first true mid-tempo rocker, eschewing the fuzzed out guitars for something more melodic and Brown's vocals appear at their most vulnerable and clear. "What Comes Around Goes Around" is exactly what you might think in terms of attitude, but it offers a mix of melodic verses and a catchier chugging rock chorus.
Brown might be at his most lighthearted musically with "Grace," a track that has a bouncier vibe and beat you'd likely never expect, but it's back to a more raucous approach with "So Into You," a hard-rocking track with an impressive song-closing jam that leaves you wanting for more.
The album concludes on a high note. First comes "Best of Me," a slithery, dark and haunting track with guitar licks that feel like they float on the heavy night air. Brown feels at home in the bluesy delivery as he laments someone who got the best of his love. And finally, "One of These Days" closes the album with a song that's arguably the most on the album built around the beat of Christopher Williams' drums. It's nearly two songs in one as Brown stops the action mid-song, strips away the instruments to explain, "One of these days / One of these days / One of these days I'm gonna find you." From there, the music comes back in with catchy blues-influenced licks that lead to a triumphant conclusion.
Simply put, Brown has a barnburner of an album on his hands. The gritty, occasionally distorted guitar work, no-holds barred aggression, catchy beats and a firm grasp of rock's blues influence have given Brown a solid base to work from and the attitude and swagger that served him so well in Pantera carries over quite nicely here in the vocals and lyrical content. While it may be his solo debut, Brown does not lack for confidence, stepping up to the mic for lead vocals, while also playing rhythm guitar and his natural bass on the disc.
With a solid supporting cast, including Lance Harvill, the aforementioned Christopher Williams on drums and producer Caleb Sherman, Brown has a disc that would sound as great pumping out of a gin joint jukebox as it does ripping through your headphones.
Rex Brown Talks About the Inspiration Behind 'Smoke On This...'