Rex Brown has come a long way since becoming a household name in heavy music in the 90’s with the legendary Pantera, keeping a legacy of tight and grooving low-end through his contributions to Down and later with Kill Devil Hills but still remains somewhat underrated. But this has not stopped him from stepping out of his 4-5 string comfort zone, picking up an electric guitar and taking the lead role of vocals for his first solo outing ‘Smoke On This’.
And I tell you what, it is a treat! Rex has pulled out all the stops to deliver a fiery piece of metal-tinged, country flavoured rock and roll. It’s big, dirty, bombastic blues driven and instantly enjoyable, influenced by the best bits of heavy metal and classic rock with a hefty modern edge and the right amount of melody where it needs it most.
As mentioned, apart from the obligatory bass supply, Rex helms the 6 string for some catchy, overdriven riffage that drenches the tracks in red dust, bringing in the album with the one-two-three combination of “Train Song”, the catchy “Lone Rider” and rocking “Crossing Lines”.
Vocally, he holds his own with no problems, his gravelly delivery keeping within the no-bull attitude to the music and is set with the right amount of memorable movements to have fans singing along in no time.
“Buried Alive” adds more dimensions to the album and sounds like it was ripped right out of the early 90’s with hints of psych-rock between grungy blues. The lead work of (who I presume to be) Lance Harvill, the main collaborator on this album continues to shine through strength to strength and ties this one together.
The psych element is continued heavily in the very Beatles influenced “Get Yourself Alright”, rife with lashings of sitar and drenched vocal layers yet doesn’t seem out of place while being a huge shift in tone from the first half of the album.
The second half of the album calms down to a lighter, almost ballady vibe of the introspective “Fault Line” and the stadium rocker “What Comes Around Goes Around” is nothing short of a potential crowd-pleasing anthem and the bouncy and ridiculously catchy “Grace”.
Rex shows no fear in sending things in a lighter direction, while they’re not the heavy thundering styles his past works are known for, they are nothing short of quality and the signs of a great musician finally unrestricted by the confines of other bands and genres.
The detour is broken by the stomping country rock of “So Into You”, pushing the energy back into the red and heads banging once more providing another barnstorming rifferama.
Clean, chorus filtered guitar wafts through the air like smoke on final track “Best Of Me” sitting somewhere between 70’s Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd before erupting into another powering sing-along chorus and back again, closing the album on a progressive haze of peaks and come-downs before floating away into silence.
I can say that the single worst thing about this album is that it feels like it is over too quickly, not because it is short, but because it remarkably enjoyable.
Those looking for heaviness and aggression will come out disappointed, but there is undoubtedly enough well-crafted rock and roll here to more than makes up for it.
Hopefully, this won’t be old mate Rex’s only solo outing.