By Nathan Rodriguez
An elongated, rumbling clatter prefaces Daniel Sproul's searing guitar intro to "Showdown," the opening track on Rose Hill Drive's eponymous debut album. The upbeat, fiery rocker gives way to the blue-collar beat of "Cold Enough," which sounds as though it could have been penned thirty years ago. Indeed, many critical comparisons of the band are made with the groups that pioneered rock music. Parallels are certainly more easily drawn with a debut album that was produced by the band and Nick DiDia (Rage Against the Machine, Pearl Jam) that was deliberately "under-produced" - no auto-tuning or other studio tricks, but rather, a certain "plug in and play" attitude that retains the raw edge of many of the tracks.
Perhaps the first great track of the disc is "Cool Cody," which arrives with a snarling swagger. Jake Sproul is able to display his storytelling abilities, stretching his high-toned, brooding vocals over his brother's convincing outro on guitar that builds up and establishes critical mass as drummer Nate Barnes delivers a cascading effect which wraps up the tune nicely.
"The Guru" is next and offers a good idea of the range of the Colorado trio. Truth be told, the band (unwittingly?) rips off Zeppelin's "Heartbreaker" at the three-minute mark for about ten seconds, but in the blink of an eye they launch the song into double-time and Daniel Sproul pulls off the type of incendiary solo that induces involuntary reactions ranging from one's mouth hanging open to outright laughs of disbelief while shaking one's head. There are times that these kids just bowl you over with pure talent.
RHD then cools things down with a medley of acoustic numbers that separate the first and last four fist-pumping rockers. Jake Sproul adapts his vocals to fit the situation, eschewing his over-the-top screeching for a more natural-sounding approach that complements the song appropriately. "Brain Novocaine" harkens back to the pop sounds of the '60s and '70s in an oddly attractive fashion, simultaneously conjuring up thoughts of The Beatles and The Clash. The song placement could not have been much better as they seem to recognize the listener's ears may become accustomed to the high-energy thrashing of the other songs. And it is this versatility that gives the album a certain feeling of depth that you wouldn't expect from many straight-up hard rock albums.
By passing one of the more reliable tests of quality, it is surprising just how much better Rose Hill Drive's debut effort sounds after several listens than after the first. While it may not top the charts or even critics' lists for "Album of the Year," the band drives one to the inescapable conclusion that they are legit. Although it may take a live performance to truly convert someone, their debut certainly gives good cause for any doubters to pay closer attention to one of the most frighteningly-talented groups playing music today.
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