Bit of a strange one this. Billy Roberts and the Rough Riders jump out of the speakers with a semi-bluesy, New Jersey-twinged sound that invites anticipation— and then he starts singing. And he, er, um can’t. Musically it’s solid. Songwriting: solid. If you like yourself some Bruce or Southside Johnny this should be straight in your basket… if you can get past the vocals. Dude’s vocals are so flat they make pancakes jealous.
Sure there are plenty of people who can’t really sing but still have very successful careers. This bloke isn’t one of them. Really all he needs to do is find a singer and he’ll have it sorted.
And it’s not like Roberts and crew are a one-trick pony, or just a Boss sound alike. “From the Ashes” rocks it up and breaks free of that East Coast sound, while not sounding out of place. Roberts’ voice sounds a bit better here, making the listener think that perhaps he just hasn’t found his proper range. In any case, “From the Ashes” has a nice vocal hook too, as well as some very fine guitar work.
The title track heads further west and sounds like it could have come straight from a modern cowboy picture. Not a catchy number, but evocative nonetheless. Similarly, “Goodbye Old Friend” sounds way less Garden State, and also seems to fit Roberts’ vocal abilities. It’s almost as if he learned to sing as he recorded these tracks. “Kayla,” a slow rocker, seems to continue the trend. The extra processing on the vocals helps a bunch.
But you’re only as strong as your weakest link they say, and people like good singing. This is a fine collection of songs, sharply played, but not well sung.
5 Stars out of 10
PF Wilson has been writing about music, TV, radio, and movies for over 20 years. He has also written about sports, business, and politics with his work appearing in Cincinnati CityBeat, The Houston Press, Cleveland Scene, Cincinnati Magazine, Cincy Magazine, Atomic Ranch, and many more. Check out his podcast PF’s Tape Recorder available from Podbean or in iTunes.