Review: Lee Aaron – Radio On!
Metalville Records (June 18th 2021)
Reviewer: Jason Hopper
According to the press release, Lee Aaron’s ‘Radio On!‘ was completely written over one weekend by the band in lockdown. Most musicians would struggle trying to come up with material in such trying times in a short span of a few days. For Ms. Aaron, it led to her and her band constructing some incredible songs, and certainly some of the best since coming back into the rock world in 2016. Lee and her bandmates from the last two albums really gel here and it shows in this work. It’s always impressive to me when an artist can incorporate different genres of music into their signature sound and construct melodious tunes that appeal to their core base. It’s downright shocking when an artist who is entering their fourth decade of performing is able to do just that, and that is exactly what Lee Aaron has done here.
The album opens with ‘Vampin‘, a strong, ripping groove courteous of guitarist Sean Kelly. Lee Aaron still sounds great and has not lost one bit of her vocal chops. Really dig the solo on this one, as Mr. Kelly plays over a unique sounding rhythm and layers one on top of the other for a cool sounding effect.
‘Soul Breaker‘ is a mid-tempo, smooth sounding rocker that is pretty typical of what you would expect from Ms. Aaron and the band. Five years and three albums together and melodies like this come to the band with ease.
The next song is where things get interesting. ‘Cmon‘ has single written all over it. Catchy ear candy in the best way pop rock songs should be. This song may not be for everyone, especially those who prefer Lee’s more heavier side, but I listened to it four times in a row with a big ol’ smile on my face. I don’t think a single has been selected as of this writing, but I will be surprised if this song is passed over. Dare I say, it’s contemporary and could easily be a hit single for any newer artists out there if they had this song at their disposal. A shame that mainstream music would choose to disrespect the Rock genre even when there’s mass market appeal if given the right promotion.
‘Mama Don’t Remember‘ is a groovy blues based rocker about life on the road. Drummer John Cody and bassist Dave Reimer contribute to a super tight rhythm giving Sean Kelly just enough room to tear it up on guitar. I can easily see a band like Cinderella playing a track like this.
‘Radio On!‘ sees the band incorporate a country-tinged influence into this mid-tempo rocker and a chorus that’s so catchy, it’s no wonder they decided to name the album after it. ‘Soho Crawl‘ has a almost sinister vibe and vocal delivery and is one of the heaviest songs on the album.
Those six tracks make up the first half of the album and this is where my critique comes in. While the second half of the album has some strong songs, it contains two ballads, one ballad/rocker, and some of the weakest songs from the band. This makes the album lopsided in comparison to the first half.
Despite there being 2 1/2 ballads in the second half, all of them are great. ‘Devils Gold‘ is a moody track about lies, falsehoods, and loss. I appreciate the last minute of the song, which sees the rhythm double in speed up to the end, adding to the angst and anger alluded in the lyrics. The blues references are suitably strong in this track. ‘Twenty One‘ is a piano based melody about days gone by and contains Lee’s best and most heartfelt vocals. As good as that song is, ‘Wasted‘ is not just the best ballad, but one of the best songs on the album. It’s a mixture of a ballad and rocker about familial troubles regarding a family member’s battle with alcoholism. The band does something interesting here in that the song starts off with the perspective of a child in the acoustic portion of the song, then transitions to the paternal perspective as the band goes full electric and the lyrics detail the grip that alcohol can have on you. Powerful stuff.
The other tracks don’t do much for me. Of those three, ‘Russian Doll‘ is the best, but pales in comparison with the first half of the album. The track has an interesting swing influence rhythmically and an up-tempo vibe. I’m sure there will be fans who will dig this track, but the swing influence is just not my thing. The other two tracks are just boring. ‘Great Big Love‘ is a slow and sultry tune and the chorus doesn’t differentiate enough musically from the verses and the song comes across as plodding as a result. ‘Had Me At Hello‘ has the exact same issues as well.
One thing that was not mentioned earlier is the sonics from legendary producer Mike Fraser. If you are familiar with his work (and most everyone has heard his production skills), then you know how he can make an album sound like a million bucks, which is exactly what he does here. While there are a few tracks that didn’t work for me, a ratio of nine great tracks out of twelve is more than enough reason to buy this album and will certainly please long time fans and bring some new ones into the fold.