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Album Review: Red Dragon Cartel – Patina

Despite the lineup debacles and mixed reception that followed Red Dragon Cartel’s 2014 debut, their second full-length album presents an infinitely more confident band. The group will always be recognized as a vehicle for former Ozzy guitarist Jake E. Lee, but Patina doesn’t have room for any special guest vocalists or stylistic pandering. The songwriting has also moved beyond the debut’s kitchen sink approach with results that are far more focused and unified than I expected.

What really astounds me is how much Patina sounds like Badlands. The debut album’s metal tinges have completely faded, allowing the band’s blues-rock influences to run rampant. The modern production job and vocalist Darren James Smith’s lower-pitched delivery inevitably give this material more muscle than anything on Voodoo Highway, and some parts do remind me of Monster Magnet or Alice in Chains, but the songs are packed with slinky swinging riffs and off-the-cuff performances.

It also can’t be overstated how strong Lee sounds on this album. His tone is organic, with a strong balance between crunch and twang, the riffs are intricate yet groovy, and the leads and solos show off a variety of moods. You can tell this was an album that he wanted to make, and the enthusiasm rubs off on the rest of the band. Whether it’s the scatting vocal on “Havana” or the more laid-back vibes of “The Luxury of Breathing,” the synergy is quite palpable compared to the debut’s cobbled together approach.

With all this in mind, I can only come up with minor nitpicks. The emphasis on low key grooves can make the songs run together, but they’re well written enough for it to not really matter. It would’ve been intriguing to see the band go even further into a rawer, 70s rock sound, but this approach does a much better job of highlighting Lee’s signature tone. A morbid part of me even wonders what these songs would’ve sounded like if Ray Gillen was still around to sing on them…

With the release of Patina, Red Dragon Cartel finally lives up to the vision that fans had in mind when Jake E. Lee first returned to the scene. The album could basically be described as Badlands through a modern lens, but there aren’t any signs of the band phoning it in or sounding desperate. It’s a refreshing listen that shows the difference between making music that fans truly want as opposed to what you think they want. I’m happy to consider this as Red Dragon Cartel’s true debut album and I hope they can follow with something that’s just as special.

Highlights:
“Havana”
“Crooked Man”
“The Luxury of Breathing”
“Chasing Ghosts”

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