On the basis of this record [McBride] isn’t going to leave anyone disappointed with his time in Purple, and there is enough to suggest that he can put just a little bit of his own stamp on proceedings as well.
If the name ‘Simon McBride’ causes you to prick your ears up, that will be because he has been in the news quite a bit just lately. Having been around for over 25 years (since he won a Best Young Guitarist contest organised by Guitarist magazine, as a 15-year-old), the native of Ireland has nonetheless flown under the mainstream radar since then – that is, until the news recently broke that he had been brought in by Deep Purple to stand in for Steve Morse while he takes a leave of absence to care for his wife through unfortunate illness. While it may appear to many as if he has been plucked from nowhere for the position, such is far from the case, as he has toured as part of Ian Gillan’s own band, as well as stints with Don Airey and in the Whitesnake-associated collective Snakecharmer. He has also released four albums of his own over the years, so he is both a seasoned player and also highly-regarded by the Purple members themselves (Gillan has described him as being one of the best guitarists he has ever heard). All of which, of course, will whet the appetite of Purple fans to see what they can expect when the band come around on tour this year.
The album has been described in some quarters as McBride’s ‘first album’, but this is clearly an oversight or, perhaps more likely, a desire by him to emphasise a new start on his major label debut. The record is also a more straight rock-oriented affair than most of its more bluesy predecessors; there is still a vein of the blues running through the album, but generally in more of a blues-inflected swaggering rock sound a la Bad Company and the like. It’s a nice, concise listen, with 12 tracks making up a little over 45 minutes, so nothing here outstays its welcome. And indeed, most of what we get here is excellent stuff in its own right, with superb guitar work throughout assuring those Purple watchers that their heroes are in safe live hands for as long as the arrangement may last. Standout tracks announce themselves right away, with the powerful opener Don’t Dare roaring out of the traps in glorious style, while the title track is a stirring and resolute declaration of intent with just the right pinch of soul to add to its power. Smouldering ballad Let Me Go is another fine song, lit up by some beautifully lyrical guitar soloing. The closing track is a cracking take on the old Free classic The Stealer, with McBride’s voice taking on a distinctly Paul Rodgers sheen (as it does on a few tracks), and he really makes the song his own, to the point where it becomes possible to actually forget it is a cover.
If there is a weakness to the album, that last track perhaps highlights it in an odd way through its own strength, as while this album is tremendous throughout from a performance standout, there are times when the songwriting just needs a little extra edge to it – a soaring chorus here, or a nice little twist of melody there. It doesn’t drag things down fatally, but there are a couple of tracks which seem a little lacking until they are rescued by some sterling guitar work. 100 Days is a grand example of this, with the song lacking the strength of melody to let it really fly, until an instrumental section come in which is so strong that it leaves the impression of the track as a great one. The slow, soulful Show Me How To Love is another which is lifted by some playing showcasing real emotion, and is greater than the sum of its parts. High Stakes has a ‘big’ chorus, but it lacks just a timy hint of ‘fairy dust’ to make it really special. King Of The Hill is a very interesting piece as, although foreshadowing his Purple appointment, it contains more than a hint of Blackmore’s playfully joyous playing on Lazy, and it’s a song which one could even imagine Purple slotting into the set.
Overall, the nature of the playing on the record is more than enough for fans of good, honest-to-goodness classic rock with attitude to spare, and the guitar style seems to these ears to be a perfect fit for the Steve Morse role – just as Morse himself scores with precision, reliability and professionalism if not quite possessing the mercurial quality of Blackmore’s immediately recognisable playing, this could pretty well describe his upcoming ‘understudy’. On the basis of this record he isn’t going to leave anyone disappointed with his time in Purple, and there is enough to suggest that he can put just a little bit of his own stamp on proceedings as well.
This would be a timely and recommended release in any circumstances, but doubly so given the way it has dovetailed with the Purple news. It is certain that a whole lot of Purple People are going to want to check this out, and it would be only right and fitting if this gifted yet hitherto unsung musician were to finally reap the rewards his talent has deserved for so long. 25 years a Fighter – maybe this could be the time he finally lands a knockout. Seconds out!