Baton Rouge were an 80s Hair Metal band who got their first album on the shelves in 1990, in the dying years of Hair Metal. Singer Kelly Keeling left to help form Blue Murder with John Sykes in 1991, precipitating the end of the band. Shake your Soul had limited success at the time, perhaps because their sound is very commercial and slick, at a time when Guns ‘n’ Roses in particular had moved popular music in a different direction.
This music is far from insipid though. The song writing is strong and there’s plenty of groove going on. It’s just that there’s a lot of production, and a lot of big choruses and backing vocals. This is harder than Journey, but closer to that than Metallica, or even Guns ‘n’ Roses.
The album starts with ‘Doctor,’ which opens with a riff that sounds a lot like Led Zeppelin but soon settles into a basic riff rocker. The single, ‘Walks like a Woman’ is next, and it’s shiny and clean, a fun listen but a long way from being the strongest track on the CD.
Ever since Night Ranger had a hit with ‘Sister Christian,’ these bands knew that ballads were the path to commercial success and this album contains two. ‘There was a Time’ is way better than ‘It’s About Time,’ but neither could compete with ’18 and Life’ or even ‘Something to Believe In.’ The rock tracks are much better, from the huge commercial rock of ‘Big Trouble’ to the winding guitar riffs of ‘Bad Time Comin’ Down.’ Elsewhere, ‘Baby’s so Cool’ is perhaps the best example of a song that could have been a lot bigger, if it had just been released a few years earlier, when bands like Survivor or even Autograph were taking commercial pop music with a rock edge to the bank. It’s easy to forget now how much of a game changer the first Guns ‘n’ Roses album was in terms of promoting a rougher image and sound, and these guys appear to have missed that memo, and pressed on as if Appetite for Destruction didn’t happen.
There’s an instrumental on here, called ‘The Midge.’ It’s a bluesy acoustic interlude. It feels like an attempt to advertise the breadth of their capacities, something that is better done by the slower rock of ‘Young Hearts.’ It’s fair to say that no one in this band was an exceptional musician, the guitar playing is typical of the era and not outstanding and the vocals are good, but not amazing. The strength of this album comes down entirely to the songwriting and the production. If you like this sort of AOR influenced rock, then this is an album you’re likely to listen to and wonder why you’d never heard of it before.
The band reformed for the second Rocklahoma festival in 2009. They played a side tent, but were so well received that they announced they were reforming. At this stage, it seems unlikely that they are moving forward with anything. Lance Bulen continues to be active in his band, Kingbaby, and Kelly Keeling continues to actively gig, with a piano show and a Beatles tribute show.