While the seemingly never-ending drama surrounding whether Pantera will ever return in some form continues to play out in the rock media, the Pantera family has been keeping very busy of late. While Vinnie Paul has followed a steady career with “Hellyeah” and Phil Anselmo has had a prolific (if occasionally rough) ride, it’s been too easy to forget about Pantera bassist Rex Brown.
After a fairly successful stint as an author and his side project “Kill Devil Hill”, he has returned with his debut solo album. Recorded largely in Nashville with collaborator Lance Harvill , this album sounds like Rex Brown going back to his musical roots. Not only that, but he has also picked up the microphone and I’ll be damned if it doesn’t suit him.
Kicking off the album with rolling riffs and a wonderfully heavy bass, “Lone Rider” is a great opener and sets the vibe for the rest of the album - lots of muscular riffs, rich grooves and enough “light em up & smoke em if you got em” attitude to power a diesel engine.
“Crossing Lines” crashes in on an almost AC/DC sounding riff while a nothing less than perfect production job by Caleb Sherman brings out the best in Rex’s voice - it’s as solid and reassuring as the perfect leather jacket. The album’s 1st single “Train Song” rides a chugging riff with the band powering along behind. This is the joyously old-school “Heavy Metal Thunder” of vintage Harleys and open roads, not the overly-compressed, tuneless screaming that passes for much Heavy Metal these days.
“Buried Alive” starts off in a moody, Alice In Chains vibe before the stomp of the track kicks in. Blowing in on a fog of hazy vocals and guitar, “Get Yourself Alright” swiftly picks up to another thumping chorus - like a heavy Southern Hard Rock twist on The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows”.
With acoustic guitars, “Fault Line” takes a softer, melodic path, while “What Comes Around…” steers us back to a mid paced rocker with lyrical perspective on a life with more than its fair share of highs and lows.
“Grace” is a shorter, dreamier style of song - it’s very different from the rest of the album and slightly less interesting for it. However, “So Into You” quickly fixes that slowdown by going full bad-ass southern rock star again, backed by thundering drums. “Best Of Me” starts off with swirling organs sounding like a heavy southern version of The Doors before Rex stands up and shows that his voice has the warmth and weather-worn quality to sustain the softer side of things - a great song.
Final track “One Of These Days” is possibly the most lyrically revealing track on the album. Opening with haunting guitar and percussion, the lyrics seem to allude to a certain tragic day in Metal history - “You gotta run go hide, ‘cus he’s got a gun”. The song then shifts to a smouldering organ and Rex singing solo above “one of these days I’m gonna find you”. Ending with a positive and knowing sentiment (“Are we ever gonna stop and make everything right? You know it’s just a matter of time”), the song glides into a gloriously lethargic southern rock sing-along outro.
Whether he really is referring to a former band or not, only time will tell. For now, we should all be grateful that Rex Brown is still making passionate and powerful Rock music - “Smoke On This” is a perfect example. Clearly crafted with care, its sound is warm and familiar without ever becoming clichéd or repetitive. A superb solo debut and hopefully a taste of more music to come.