(MAILBOAT RECORDS/PASCO MELVIN MUSIC; reissue 2016, original release 2015)
During the recording sessions for Aerosmith’s NIGHT IN THE RUTS, the excesses fostered by the 1970s Rock and Roll lifestyle (primarily perpetuated by vocalist Steven Tyler) had taken their toll: Joe Perry exited before the album was completed, with his stage-right counterpart, Brad Whitford, following him out the door after nearly two years of inactivity and in-fighting. Derek Saint Holmes had been “let go” from Ted Nugent’s band at least twice between 1975 and 1978 because… well, because he wasn’t Ted Nugent; while the ‘Smith fell apart in 1979, Derek formed Saint Paradise, releasing an excellent record before hooking up with the newly bandless Whitford for 1981’s WHITFORD/SAINT HOLMES album. With another album recorded and ready for release, the project was (seemingly) shelved permanently when Brad returned to a presumably clean and sober Aerosmith and Saint Holmes went back for another round of abuse from Uncle Ted. Now, three-and-a-half decades late, the pair have come together again to clean up a little unfinished business. That unfinished business has manifested in the form of REUNION.
REUNION is exactly that, with the two living in the same town just outside of Nashville, Derek and Brad got together and started writing at least an album’s worth of new songs. And what a fine record it is, drawing on a combined 80-plus years of rockin’ experience. “Shapes” kicks things off nicely, offering all of the best parts of the namesake’s previous bands – Aerosmith, Ted Nugent and Saint Paradise – with none of the excesses (the drugs, the loincloths, the over-the-top frontman). The guys still sound great together and Saint Holmes hasn’t lost the vocal prowess that made so many of those early Nugent records (and, indeed, the sole Saint Paradise release) so memorable. Surrounding themselves with a group of like-minded players (bassist Chopper Anderson, drummer Troy Luccketta and keyboardist Buck Johnson) is also a plus, with Luccketta’s presence, in particular, paying immediate dividends, as the drums crack and pop, adding just the right amount of heavy bounce. A bluesy little slice of Americana, “Tender Is the Night” finds Saint Holmes doing his best Bob Seger. The guitars jangle and shine, while Johnson’s keyboards and Anderson’s bass take the tune to completely unexpected heights. This song could easily be a hit on Classic Rock or Country (yeah, I said it!) radio, making it an early favorite. On “Rock All Day,” a dirty “Hooligan’s Holiday” guitar riff leads into an ‘80s hair metal groove featuring a wicked slide part. For some reason, Derek’s vocals remind me of Steve Walsh’s Kansas heyday. With Motley Crue and Kansas musical references tossed into the mix, this one is some really good stuff!
“Hot For You” is a slice of Stones-style Rhythm and Blues that hits on Brad’s Aerosmith ancestry more than anything else so far on this album. More of that magnificent slide guitar, a boogie-woogie piano from Johnson, a memorable hook and some funky horns all add up to another great tune. A power ballad, “Hell Is On Fire” brings to mind certain MTV juggernauts like Snookie and… just kidding! Those juggernauts would be late ‘80s/early ‘90s Aerosmith and Uncle Ted’s super-group, Damn Yankees, with this song’s lyrics coming closer in feel to that band’s Tommy Shaw. Derek also recalls the melody to one of Saint Paradise’s better tunes, “Jesse James.” On “Catch My Fall,” pounding drums and chiming guitars lead into a track that reminds me of Pat Benatar for some reason. It’s probably the most disposable number here and, having said that, maybe one of the tunes most likely to be a radio hit.
Steve, is that you? “Shake It” is the most Aerosmith-sounding track on the album, right down to Saint Holmes’ vocal histrionics and phrasing. As guitarists, neither Derek nor Whitford have lost any of the sting for which they’ve been known and, this is not a bad little tune, with some nice piano and a killer drum groove (a la Joey Kramer on “Rag Doll”). With its infectious, funky groove, “Gotta Keep On Movin’” could have been the follow-up single to Ray Parker Junior’s “The Other Woman,” or at least the B-side. Chopper Anderson and Troy Luccketta really shine, as do Derek’s vocals; the song also features one of the best solos on the entire record. “Flood of Lies” is another big Rock song. So big, in fact, that it could be mistaken for an outtake from ROCKS. The number is led by Buck Johnson’s organ and fueled by the singer’s passionate performance. Saint Holmes spent so much time as Nugent’s side man that it has caused many to miss (or dismiss) just what a powerful voice he possesses and, like a fine wine, he seems to have improved with age.
It took almost 35 years for these two men to reconnect in any sort of creative way. As far as I’m concerned, it was well worth the wait. This reissue revisits that first record with a bonus disc featuring a remastered version; as a small, gentle reminder of how Derek and Brad sounded in 1981 with a quick rundown of the cuts on WHITFORD/SAINT HOLMES…
“I Need Love” kicks things off. The song is anthemic and poppy; very much a product of its time. “Whiskey Woman” has turned out to be the record’s most enduring number, an AOR staple then, a Classic Rock radio staple now. “Hold On” is your standard-issue marketable pop ballad with a bouncy New Wave groove, courtesy of drummer Steve Pace and bassist Dave Hewitt. “Sharpshooter” is a muscular, Sammy Hagar style rocker that woulda done really well on the fledgling MTV network. “Every Morning” takes the best parts of the two previous cuts and tosses in an absolutely massive drum sound. “Action” is a power-pop sorta thing that’s actually pretty good, if a bit repetitive. Columbia Records chose “Shy Away” as the record’s first (and only) single, though I’m not sure it was ever officially released (even if it was given a catalog number). It’s a great piece of (Greg) Kihnsian pop. “Does It Really Matter?,” like much of the record, is an AOR/pop anthem. In a bit of a departure for the duo’s debut, “Spanish Boy” is a nice slab of hard rock. “Mystery Girl” continues in the same vein. In fact, it’s probably the hardest rocking track on the entire set. It’s a very nice way to close out a pretty solid ‘80s rock album.