Firstly, it has to be said – Troy Redfern couldn’t look cooler if he was carved out of pure cool. From his carefully-studied look of brooding self-confidence, to the smouldering defiance from eyes hooded under a wide-brimmed leather stetson, he has clearly stepped straight off the freight train from the wild west. It’s a bit of a shock to find that, rather than being raised in the desert where his fist got hard and his wits got keen (apologies to Johnny Cash), he actually hails from the beautiful, soft green hills of the west of England.
I wonder whether that’s what drives his desire to play tough and hard – sporting a collection of vintage acoustics and resonators, his stage show is a generally solo business, booting a kick drum while thrashing his slide guitar to within an inch of its life. In the studio though, he and his regular collaborator and producer Dave Marks choose extra musicians to highlight the sound Troy is trying to achieve at any given time. For The Wings Of Salvation, they are teamed with drummer Paul Stewart; the multi-instrumentalist Marks is on bass, but also throws rhythm guitar, keyboards, percussion, backing vocals and even a dash of banjo into the mix.
The drums were laid down separately in a studio converted from a church in Northants, with “the most amazing natural reverb sound.” The result of this particular combination is an album that is somewhat clearer and sharper than last year’s The Fire Cosmic; a touch less heavy on the grunge. Whether that’s an improvement or otherwise will be largely down to the listener’s tastes; for me it works better on some tracks, less so on others, but Troy slaps enough of the greasy grime through the microphones to keep most listeners happy.
It’s easy to tell that this record is not all about metal mayhem from the opener Gasoline, a hard rocker for sure, but in 7-8 time – check it out at the foot of this page. This is followed by Sweet Carolina, a more commercially-leaning tune with a definite southern rock vibe. These first two songs are out-heavied by track 3 though, a mid-tempo bluesy shuffle called Come On, which ends on a deliberately unresolved chord, just because why-the-hell-not.
This is where it all starts to warm up though, from my perspective at least. Navajo plays to a thudding, almost jug-band rhythm, bolstered by Marks’ banjo, giving an authentic whiff of the old west. Then an album highlight, the epic rocker Mercy, which rotates through several rhythm changes, and gives Troy a chance to show off his non-slide guitar licks with a rocking fast solo. Can’t Let Go is a slow but heavy pop-rocker, featuring a great, screaming sound on the first slide solo, moderating to a creamy overdrive on the second.
There is another change of pace for the slow, minor key Dark Religion, which plays into the Pirate genre with hand-clap percussion and a blues-rock rhythm in triplet time. Profane is a manically fast four-to-the-floor rock anthem, featuring a bit of clattering sticks-on-the-rim percussion halfway through and a helping of answer-back vocals towards the end. This is the closest the album comes to the thundering rockers of the previous album, but the sound is noticeably cleaner than on Scorpio or Sanctify – possibly closer in spirit to some of the early Van Halen’s up-tempo power-drivers, such as I’m The One or The Full Bug.
Down opens with a chunky, groovy rhythm with tribal toms; the opening guitar sound veers towards Dan Patlansky’s overdriven Strat tone. There seems to be a lot going on in this one, with some novel effects such as tremoloed vocals, and a great slide solo, rising and diving like a performing dolphin. The album ends on another highlight, the stripped-down Heart & Soul, in which Troy reverts to his one-man band persona with this slow, chain gang slide blues. It sputters out on some bass-heavy guitar notes, creaking to a stop like a rusty cart.
Troy makes a point of endeavouring to portray his authentic self in these recordings; the whole set was written from scratch in just over a month, and they agreed before they started, not to include any post-production in the form of drum editing, samples or auto-tune; no chopping up or rearranging parts to make them sound slick and smart. So for better or worse, what you get here is the authentic Troy Redfern, as he is right now, or more accurately, how he was just a few weeks ago, when he and his band were bashing out these parts in the studio. If they recorded it again right now, it would be different – and that’s the point really; it had to be a snapshot of genuine Troy at that quantum moment in time, no more, no less. And that, I suppose, is the beauty of touring your show as a one-man band – no contamination, no dilution. Just gulp it down straight.
Troy Redfern is touring in support of Dare during October 2022