By Brandon “B-Mac” McCarthy
Every one of my readers already knows what a huge fan I am of the groove metal legends, Pantera. I admit, I did not get into until after Dimebag Darrell’s tragic death, but I fell in love right when I first heard “Cowboys From Hell.” Since his passing, each member has gone on to create their own respective projects. Vocalist Phil Anselmo has fronted different groups, from Down to Superjoint Ritual and Scour. Drummer Vinnie Paul has hooked up with Mudvayne frontman Chad Grey, and created the highly successful Hellyeah. As for bassist Rex Brown, he would go on to join Anselmo and Down for a short while, and created the supergroup Kill Devil Hill with Dio drummer Vinny Appice. I have always enjoyed his low tone bass riffs on metal records, but now he is looking to create something different. Brown has just put together his first solo effort, Smoke On This… What is interesting about this record is that he incorporates not just metal, but different kinds of genres that have influenced him as a musician. So I grabbed myself a bottle of Jack Daniels, and adjusted my ears to listen to what he has produced.
It is awesome for Brown to step into the role as leader of a project. The opening track, “Lone Rider,” grabbed my attention right off, with its classic hard rock riffs. I dug the way he sings on this album. He has a raspy, gruff voice that is tough and non-content. This album is a mixture of hard rock, country rock, blues, and surfer rock. I feel like he gets every genre that inspired him as an artist onto this record, in order to best showcase his versatility as a musician. There is a hint of that groove metal swagger he is known for, but Brown aimed to refrain from his usual heavy metal beats. Instead, he opted to create a record more rich in rock ‘n’ roll itself. Along with “Train Song” and “What Comes Around…,” he manages write tunes that have real substance. Backing him are drummer Christopher Williams and guitarist Lance Harvill, both of whom nailed the roles they were given on this project. Harvill does a superb job adding more guitar work and solos to the mix. No surprise, Brown did the bass work himself.
There are a few ballads here and there, including “Fault Line” and “Best of Me.” Brown strips down for those songs. I sense a lot of vulnerability and tenderness in his voice, like he is getting everything off his chest, so many years of music and partying can really hit home. There were times where I felt he was jumping all over the map, going from genre to genre. He never stays in place for this album. One minute, he is in his heavy metal phase with “Crossing Lines,” next goes the way of the Beach Boys with “Grace.” Personally, I saw “Grace” as his one song that I could not connect with. However, I do applaud him for taking a huge risk with this endeavor. He does make for with the smoking country rock flavor, “So Into You.” He ends things with the Bon Jovi inspired number, “One Of These Days.”
Brown was definitely swinging for the fences with Smoke On This… While it was not a home run, it did reach the walls for a double. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him working on this album. On the next one, if he chooses to do so, I hope he makes a more concentrated album that sticks to one particular kind of music. Still, it was a decent solo debut that I am curious to hear live. He has certainly moved forward from his days in Pantera. To Rex Brown, I salute you. Horns up!!! 7.9/10