2013 was an incredible year for albums, in particular debuts. Bands such as Black Star Riders, Monster Truck and The Temperance Movement all made their mark on rock’s landscape alongside albums from the established acts. Then, at the tail end of the year, an unknown band fuelled by an all-star lineup gate-crashed the party with their self-titled debut – and still their best record. I am, of course, talking of The Dead Daisies. Armed with Jon Stevens’ powerful vocals, they created something truly special.
Naturally, his solo album, Starlight, piqued my interest. In essence, it’s picking up where that album left off. Hell, lead single and opening track “Hold On” has The Dead Daisies written all over it. Acoustic arrangements backed by a big, swelling classic rock sound to appeal to a modern and discerning crowd. However, there’s a vibe across the album that, while it won’t leave a sour taste in your mouth, you’re not going to have this in constant rotation.
Genres, whilst helpful to identify what bands sounds like, are largely subjective. However, one I keep hearing recently is “dad rock”. With the exception of those CDs which crop up at Christmas time, it’s a fairly nebulous term. But here, it seems appropriate. Whilst Stevens has been prolific from a young age across his solo career and bands, Starlight has the feel of the guy next door who used to be in a band 20 years ago and was on the verge of making it before giving it all up. And now he’s decided to dust off his guitar and have another shot at it.
Stevens is an incredible vocalist and musician, he’s even roped in a Beatle to perform on a track which happens to be one of the best of the album. There are a couple of wobbly moments such as closing track “All About the People”. With its strong, soulful, borderline gospel opening, it makes for a sombre parting moment. Then, in chimes Stevens’ son, Levi with his rapping skills. Which, while good, feels out of place and comes across as a man of another era trying to stay “hip”. But the lyrics alongside those of the other ten songs are powerful and showcase Stevens’ dynamic voice to its full potential.
Starlight, at its heart, is a classic rock album taking in all the different sounds which make that sound. Recording in Nashville has certainly given the album a Southern vibe with songs like “Oh Lord” but for most of it, what you hear is blues in its most lamenting form. Songs like “Feel Like Letting Go” and “Something ‘Bout You” are the album at its tamest but some of the its highest points. The latter also features Vanessa Amorosi on vocals to create a touching duet as the pair bare their souls.
Meanwhile, “Devil in My Heart” has the vigour and spirit of LA Guns’ “Electric Gypsy” and “What Makes You Happy” are the upbeat hard rock numbers. Alongside that, you have the acoustic-driven “Feel Like Letting Go” and “One Way Street” which, despite their stripped back nature, are pretty complex songs with a full sound.
Starlight doesn’t bring anything new to the table and it’s more of an album to listen to as afternoon fades to evening in the late Summer sun. Brilliant vocals paired with excellent lyrics is where Jon Stevens shines brightest. Even the guest appearances aren’t done for the sake of it, it adds to the music, even if the junior Stevens’ appearance feels more like trying to prove dad can hang with the kids. There’s a few different sounds in the music and it expertly side-steps the pitfall of becoming a mess; it’s all brought together into one album perfectly.
Starlight is released on 15th September