CD Review: Sammy Hagar – Sammy Hagar & Friends

CD Review: Sammy Hagar – Sammy Hagar & Friends
Frontiers Records
All Access Review: B-

Sammy Hagar - Sammy Hagar & Friends 2013
The Van Halen brothers, Eddie and Alex, are reportedly not too fond of their old band mate SammyHagar. A tell-all biography that shines a not-so-flattering light on certain unsavory aspects of their time together in Van Halen tends to have that effect, although to be fair, their relationship was frosty well before “Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock” saw the light of day.

That said, the affable Hagar is not without friends, as the new album of hard-rocking, bluesy, country-flavored collaborations Sammy Hagar & Friends points out. Taj Mahal, Kid Rock, Nancy Wilson of Heart, Journey’s Neal Schon, Ronnie Dunn and Toby Keith, Montrose pals Denny Carmassi and Bill Church, and, of course, his boys in Chickenfoot – the cast is a who’s who of musical heavyweights. In typically raucous and rowdy fashion, Hagar presides over what should be a 10-song soundtrack for a week-long drunken bender, but by the end, there’s a sense that the hangover has come early, thanks to some strangely reinterpreted covers and an overall sense of malaise.

An uneven set of ballsy, rough-and-tumble, metal-tinged originals like “Knockdown Dragout” and the slow-burning, fuzz-toned “Not Going Down,” penned by Jay Buchanan of the Rival Sons, Sammy Hagar & Friends also features the red-hot, tires-squealing, rock ‘n’ roll thrill ride “Bad on Fords and Chevrolets” – a Hagar-Dunn duet that drives recklessly like a bootlegger being chased through gravelly back roads by the Feds. By far the most exciting and infectious track on Sammy Hagar & Friends, Jerry Lee Lewis would approve of it and probably join in, although he might not be so complimentary towards the lazy, lethargic and surprisingly stiff treatment of “Margaritaville” Sammy and company sleep through here.

Given his taste for tequila and fondness for the laid-back island fun, everyone knew the day would come when Hagar would try his hand at “Margaritaville,” and it’s an utter failure, almost completely devoid of any of the sunny charm of Jimmy Buffett’s version. Turning Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus” into a mid-tempo blues holy roller – complete with soulful backing singers – might not seem like such a bad idea, but in execution, it seems awkwardly arranged and anything but a religious experience, sucking the hypnotic creepiness out of the original version and transforming it into a bland, insipid Vegas-style lounge number, instead of a fiery, organic sermon. Not all of the covers chosen by Hagar are treated so shabbily, as Bob Seger’s “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” is a vibrant revival tailor-made for his loud monster-truck vocal pipes.

“Father Sun” and “Winding Down” come off as much more inspired works, with the bright mandolin and acoustic guitar strumming of the former drenched in Southern down-home charm and the slinky slide-guitar meanness of the latter slipping and sliding around a lyrical laundry list of societal and political ills. Recorded live in the studio, the brawny, crawling “Going Down” finds Hagar, Schon, Michael Anthony and Chad Smith grinding and tenderizing the song’s body with bruising rhythmic blows, making a big drill out of it that could tunnel through bedrock.

Sammy Hagar & Friends runs hot and cold, its country-pop warmth and heavy rock statements made all the more powerful through the instrumental prowess of articulate players like Schon and Joe Satriani, even if they feel like as if they’re saving themselves for something for more challenging than this off-the-cuff experience. What should be a colorful rock ‘n’ roll fiesta has too many grey spaces, too many periods of lifeless fist-shaking at enemies real or imagined that lack real conviction. When Hagar should be the cheery drunk wearing a lampshade on his head, he expresses halfhearted defiance, as if the beating he’s taken over the years by faceless critics has finally gotten to him. For once, the shaggy-haired Hagar shies away from being the life of the party, and that grinning, laughing personality of his is missed.
– Peter Lindblad

1 comment:

  1. I have never liked this guy. I'm really surprised anyone funded his recording or even jammed with him for a night.