Venturing out on your own in a musical capacity can be a daunting task at times, especially with a solid history of band collaborations that has yielded a ton of success. Such is the case with Rex Brown. Having spent the bulk of his recording career with Pantera, and later continuing the trend in Down and a short stint with Kill Devil Hill, this is his first chance to truly go out on his own and make music by his own rules.
It must be gratifying as hell for Brown to be able to fully take charge of his musical path and do music on his own terms. While his collaborations have all been very worthy and memorable, it gives off something special when an artist is able to break out on their own and show themselves fully to the musical world without having to do so in a band environment. So with this newfound freedom, Brown has laid down eleven tracks spanning all facets of his musical influences with his drive and passion pushing forth on his solo debut Smoke On This.
I’ll make the point before getting to the songs that this isn’t metal. While it definitely skirts the line from time to time, this music is more rooted in an old-school approach with a modern day feel. The great thing for most fans of his previous work is that the influences that come out on this album mirror what a lot of his older fans have grown up on and appreciated; that being hard rock with a no frills approach.
‘Lone Rider’ starts off the album with Brown saying “smoke on this” and starts into a nice hard rock groove reminiscent of Black Label Society. Brown’s hazy vocals gel perfectly with this dirty rocker. This is such a great introduction to the album and gets things started off on a high. ‘Crossing Lines’ keeps up the momentum with dominant riffs, some nice slide guitar and organs which propel the big and meaty slow pace to this song. ‘Buried Alive’ is acoustic to start which leads into some electric riffs, but the song keeps coming back to the soulful and emotional approach of non-distortion, which shows a great transitional contrast. The final minute of the song gives us a great bluesy solo.
‘Train Song’ shows off riffs that come barreling across just like the title in question, while ‘Get Yourself Alright’ is bluesy in approach with harmonious layered vocals, and a psychedelic edge which sits over the song in a smoky haze. ‘Fault Line’ stays on that tangent with a stripped-down acoustic approach that reminds me a lot of The Beatles as far as the pace, and with the way that the light piano/organ and vocal effects come across. ‘Grace’ emotes an almost funky drive to the song with its drum beat and guitar strumming. Once again, this is another example of showing off layers and influence on this album.
I was afraid that the title of ‘So Into You’ would suggest a power-ballad, but the southern rock approach gives off the opposite. It’s powerful and catchy as hell. ‘Best Of Me’ once again shows how well Brown takes a bare bones approach to songwriting. The pacing and feel in this track show a heartfelt emotion with the instrumentation helping to push these feelings to the surface. The song goes from soft to heavy and pulls you in. And ‘One Of These Days’ closes off the album with the song seeming to split off midway through, going with the same feel as the mid-paced songs on this album, then Brown repetitively sings the title before switching to a memorable organ driven blues approach to close out this collection of songs in a memorable way.
I will say that the only problem I had with the album was the inclusion of ‘What Comes Around’. It’s the only song that for me comes off as filler in a sense. It’s not bad musically, but it’s just not memorable.
But to have this as my only gripe is very telling as to how talented and well done this collection of songs come across.
There’s a great bottom-heavy groove to the overall drive of the music, which I’m sure is in part to Brown’s history of bass dominance. It provides the perfect backdrop for the riffs and drums.
The general mood of the music on this album reeks of southern throwbacks and a genuine 70’s approach to songwriting, which is completely welcome to me in a day when everything is so overproduced and tinkered with in this digital age of recording music. I’m also very happy with Brown’s vocals on this debut. He’s a natural as far as bluesy hard rock vocals go, and I’m almost upset that it took us this long to hear his voice in the forefront on his recordings after all these years, because we really missed out.
Brown’s ability to saunter between the gravely dirtiness of hard rock and bluesy southern-rock while being able to effectively create an air of emotion and harmony with his more bare and simplistic approach shows a real maturity as a songwriter. While some people familiar with his past projects might be taken a bit aback by his debut’s direction, I’d say the bulk of his fans that have been with him since his start have the same affinity and love for rock’s greats just like he does. This is a worthy debut, and I’m glad to see that Rex’s next chapter in music history comes across as so genuine and heartfelt.
1) Lone Rider
2) Crossing Lines
3) Buried Alive
4) Train Song
5) Get Yourself Alright
6) Fault Line
7) What Comes Around
9) So Into You
10) Best Of Me
11) One Of These Days
Playing Time: 43:42
Rex Brown-vocals, guitar, bass