Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Album Review: Ricky Warwick - When Patsy Cline Was Crazy/Hearts On Trees

Over the course of two albums with Black Star Riders, Ricky Warwick was established himself as a potent frontman. Leading the group that was the last incarnation of Thin Lizzy, he has been the voice of two albums that have given classic rock a shot in the arm, with "All Hell Breaks Loose" being an album that would have been a classic back in the day. Warwick's bravado and storytelling make him a particularly individual singer and songwriter, which makes this foray into solo material a bit of a surprise. Since he had such a hand in crafting the Black Star Riders material, and he is the centerpiece of that band's sound, what could he have in store that would warrant an album all of his own?

We find out in the form of a double album, "When Patsy Cline Was Crazy/Hearts On Trees". For now, let's focus on the first half of the equation.

"The Road To Damascus Street" opens the album off with a riff that almost grinds, as opposed to the bluesy swagger his main band lives on. Warwick's vocals are right in his wheelhouse, never trying to do something he knows he can't. He has a way of writing melodies that are subtle but get the job done, and that's what happens here. It doesn't jump out at you at first, but soon you find yourself humming along, and you realize you've been sucked in. That's the common denominator in Warwick's best material; they're songs that slowly ingratiate themselves.

When that song gets followed up by the smooth melody of "Celebrating Sinking", and the irresistibly catchy title track, it sets the record up for something great. Warwick's ode to the power of the golden age of music is powerful, and a far better way of expressing that sentiment than the myriad songs written by bands to convince us of how hard they themselves rock.

That song is also where we start to understand the genesis of this album. Through the lyrics, we can hear Warwick's affection for outlaw country. That sound, filtered through the beginnings of punk, is a decent approximation of the attitude this album is shooting for, and explains why these songs weren't saved for the next Black Star Riders album. And when you hear the hints of rockabilly rhythm in "Toffee Town", that point is driven home.

We get to hear some spaghetti-western horns in "That's Where The Story Ends", but none of the diversions take away from the core of Warwick's songwriting, which gives these songs a common core to piece them together. And as the album progresses towards the end, we get more songs that keep shifting the tones and tempos, but retain solid melodic identities. It's hard not to nod your head along to a song like "Johnny Ringo's Last Ride", which is simply fun.

So that takes care of the first half of the double record, but what about the other half?

"Hearts On Trees" is a far different beast. An acoustic record, it veers from campfire singalong to introspective brooding, and lacks almost all of the charm from the first disc. The songs on this record are slower, duller, and are devoid of the melodies that Warwick is known for. There are a few forced attempts to generate audience participation, but it doesn't work. These songs are not anywhere near the quality I was expecting, nor do they seem to play to Warwick's strengths. It was tough to get through "Hearts On Trees" without feeling bored, which is saying something, considering that neither disc of this album hits forty minutes.

Overall, my opinion is split. "Hearts On Trees" is a record I find superfluous, and one that adds nothing to the package. "When Patsy Cline Was Crazy", on the other hand, is a very nice album. It lacks the punch that Black Star Riders hit with at their best, but Warwick is a charming enough vocalist to mostly make me forget that. This isn't as good as "All Hell Breaks Loose", but it's a record that's as good as "The Killer Instinct", which is plenty good enough for me.

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