Solid riff, excellent lead lines under the verse, expansive lyrics that bring the big 80s back to life, and a drummer (Herman Rarebell) who knows how to hold a fill just a perfect half-beat longer than anyone else, creating a coiled spring of tension just waiting to explode into the next part of the song (like right before the first chorus). Pure 80s hard rock magic.
Kenny Wayne Sheppard can play. Seriously. Dude can flat out wail on some blues, and while some of it might be a little derivative, when he settles into a groove it just carries you along, like Born With A Broken Heart.
On Slow Ride, however, he’s only kinda-sorta after that groove. He’s just wailing. He’s shredding. It’s an end-to-end connection of riffs underneath the vocals, and while they’re living within a blues chord structure, the lead lines are all over the place. Not only that, but the drummer is all over the place. Hell, without the bassist holding things together, you’d have one repeating riff (right at the start of the chorus) and an extended late night jam showing off for the six not-completely-falling-down-drunk people left in the bar.
But it works. It totally works. You’ve got a solid vocal line over top of the guitar pyrotechnics, a drummer who manages to play an entire song with no hi-hat and fills everywhere but stays on beat, and a bass player who actually glues everything together and keeps the band honest. So let the lead guy show off – it’s his name on the track, after all – and let the rest of the band bring their A-game, where they’re needed. Even the bassist.
Some riffs just belong to a certain place & time. Yes, Drivin’ & Cryin’ are from Atlanta, and the Chattahoochee River doesn’t run thru Greensboro, but Honeysuckle Blue is a Carolina riff and I’ll fight anyone who says different.
D&C came out of the same Southeast college-town club circuit that gave us Dave Matthews, Superchunk, and Hootie & The Blowfish. But they always seem to be as much of a Carolinas band as most of the others on that circuit.
That opening riff is 1am at Jillian’s, and halftime at Carter-Finley, and the Wrightsville Beach pier, and now boarding for the west coast at CLT, and microbrews in Asheville, and walking around the Battery, and any of the coffeehouse-and-dorm-programming concerts I played in the early 90s. It’s instant high-fives and air guitars from a well-buzzed crowd and shout-along choruses at football games.
From Sweet Child o’ Mine asking “where do we go now” to Locomotive insisting “love’s so strange” to the Vanishing Point soliloquy over the solo at the end of Breakdown, GnR knew how to give a listener an entirely new song tacked on at the end, to change your entire perspective on the one you were sure you were just listening to. Rocket Queen kicks off with an erotic, forceful, borderline BDSM cock-in-your-face riff that weaves into a verse of just downright weird hanging chords with vocals that clearly put the girl in her place. After all, if “I can turn on anyone / just like I turned on you” is supposed to be a sexually-charged boast, then clearly, you’re doing her a favor.
But if Axl can turn on her, instead of turning her on then suddenly the entire next line – “I’ve got a tongue like a razor” is cutting her down instead of pumping her up. But by the time the guitar solo – and the orgasmic moaning solo accompanying it – fade back into the chorus, the arena rock staccato chords that launched a thousand fist pumps suddenly beget… arpeggiated chords that offer the sweetest apology for the verbal assault just unleashed through through the first 4 minutes of the song. “If you need a shoulder / or if you need a friend” are offered sincerely, not ironically, and “all I ever wanted / was for you / to know that I care” isn’t some idle thought tossed off by text message the morning after a one-night stand (as though texting even existed in 1987), but genuinely expressed to someone whose relationship with the singer is clearly more complex than any tune from Poison, Ratt, Motley Crue, Kiss, or Bon Jovi are going to express for us.