Thursday, May 11, 2017

Album Review: Snakecharmer - Second Skin

It's not pleasant for the other members of a band when the singer becomes synonymous with the name. That's what happened with Whitesnake, as it became in the eyes of the public David Coverdale and whoever he happened to have standing behind him in the latest video. That left the members who helped build the band to languish in the background, even as Coverdale was introducing the umpteenth version of the band to their recent comeback success. Two of those former members decided to step out of the shadows and form Snakecharmer, but now that we're left with only bass player Neil Murray, does the pun really stand for anything anymore?

In a way, yes, because Snakecharmer is still breathing life into the bluesy variety of hard rock that Whitesnake was playing all those years ago. Since everyone involved is a veteran with miles of experience, the first thing that can be said about Snakecharmer is that they are a group of professionals who have made a polished and professional album that lives up to their skills. Depending on how you view rock and roll, that can also be a negative, since there isn't any grit or energy to these songs in the same way a young and hungry band can create.

The blues are not a relaxed musical form, so the tempered performances but forward by these old hands might not be exactly what was needed. Everything is played and sung flawlessly, but I can't help but think having a bit more bite to some of the guitars, or pushing the tempos on the slower numbers, would have given the album a bit more life.

The thing about blues-rock is that if you adhere too closely to the standard blues riffs, there isn't always an opening for a melodic vocal. That's what keeps songs like "Are You Ready To Fly" from, ironically, rising up. Songs like "Follow Me Under" are far superior, because the chorus perks up enough that the vocal is able to bounce over the top and make for a more appealing hook. It finds the right balance between traditional blues rock and an approach more engaging for today.

I wish I could say they spend most of their time on that side of the ledger, but too often they put the blues groove ahead of all else, which is the way things used to be done, but forty years of bands playing the same variants of those riffs has left us needing something more to the songwriting than what we've already heard so many times before. "Hell Of A Way To Live" is a really good song, but there aren't enough of them on the record. Too many of these songs are rehashing the same material these men have been playing their entire careers. That's probably fun for them, but it makes the present seem a bit tired.

"Second Skin" is an impeccably played album that probably does give fans of bluesy rock who gave up on new music in 1983 exactly what they want. But since I am not a product of that time, and my memories of Whitesnake are with John Sykes involved, Snakecharmer's biggest appeal is lost on me. This record isn't meant for me, which I completely understand. It's very good for what it does, but that arrow isn't pointing in my direction.

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