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Album Review: Rex Brown – Smoke on This

Rex Brown is a good example of your typical bass player. He’s not necessarily been a follower his whole career, but he’s spent more time supporting others than he has forging his own path. His involvement with Pantera, Down, and Kill Devil Hill among several other projects can always be felt, even if it isn’t always noticed. Now that the legendary bassist has released a solo album in which he also handles the vocals and sparse guitar, it is tricky to tell what it’ll sound like, let alone how good it will be.

Right off the bat, you’ll be disappointed if you expect Rex’s solo debut to be a metal album. The guitar tone is gritty and there are a couple moments that remind me of a Zakk Wylde project, but much of the album is straight up southern rock with occasional country and hard rock elements. The tone is bright, the tempos are laid back even at their most rocking, and Rex’s vocals are delivered in a husky, bare bones croon similar to ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons or Gene Simmons. It isn’t too surprising when you consider that Rex has always played in bands with a southern slant to them.

But even if the presentation is pretty enjoyable and the songs vary in style, the actual songwriting isn’t always the most engaging. I swear I’ve heard the riffs on “Crossing Lines” and “So into You” in plenty of other bands’ songs and the lyrics are as nondescript as the stock titles suggest. In addition, Rex’s voice is at an awkward middle of the road point where he’s pleasant enough to avoid sounding bad but doesn’t inject the personality that the material begs for.

On the bright side, there’s nothing really offensive on here, and there are some good songs. The heavier songs like “Lone Rider” and “Train Song” have a solid Corrosion of Conformity vibe, while the best songs are the ones that opt for a more jam-oriented direction like “Buried Alive” and “Best of Me.” But even these songs just make me want Rex to start a band with a different guitarist whose personality and vocals could counteract and elevate his own. A guitarist with perhaps a Wylder personality, if you will…

Overall, Rex Brown’s solo debut is a pleasant though inoffensive listen that may not be more than background music for anyone but the biggest southern rock diehards. There are good songs on here and the performances are solid, but the album lacks the spark that would make it something truly special. As much as I would love Rex to take part in another awesome band, I can also hope for him to get the confidence and charisma to better boost his future outings. In the meantime, this is most recommended to old farts whose appreciation of new bands is directly proportional to the names they recognize.

Highlights:
“Buried Alive”
“Train Song”
“Fault Line”
“Best of Me”
“One of These Days”

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