|Multi-platinum selling artist Rex Brown has stepped out as front man for the first time to sing and play lead guitar on his debut solo album 'Smoke On This...', an astounding opus which totally strips away any and all boundaries and preconceived notions. "My motto these days is 'Shake some shit up,'" Brown declares about the new LP; "I've had my ups and downs, like anybody in this business. I wanted to feel like a true artist again, where I can write and record songs without worrying about any of the bullshit."
'Smoke On This...', set for release as a digipack CD and 180 gram clear vinyl (with black streaks), printed inner sleeves (+ CD in cardboard sleeve), on July 28th on Steamhammer / SPV, is packed with unfettered, old-school guitar slinging rock with a nod to the seventies and a firm grasp on the future. Rex wields a six-string guitar as confidently on 'Smoke On This' as he wore the bass in Pantera and Down, while his engaging voice crackles with easygoing spirit and truth-telling power. It's a crunchy drawl that's down-to-earth, grippingly relatable and gritty; somewhere between the achingly resonant spiritual shamanism of Tom Waits and the radio friendly sound of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
The man who joined Pantera in 1982 and helped move thousands of cassettes and LPs from the back of car trunks in the parking lots of smoky clubs, before the rest of the world discovered the Cowboys from Hell, is foremost a good ole' boy from a small town. He was deeply moved by the Beatles, Stones, and Elvis, thanks to his older sister, and happily confesses to being "the biggest Zeppelin fan in the world." His connection to everything that was killer about the seventies, from Southern-fried Floridian rockers Blackfoot to English slide-guitar masters Foghat, is nothing short of personal and electric. As he'll attest; "I listen to everything from Sinatra to Slayer."
Having hooked up with Nashville-based guitarist and songwriter Lance Harvill, an old friend, to work as his primary collaborator, Rex began putting down lead guitar, bass and vocals in the studio. The song "Fault Line" helped him find his voice. "That was the very first one I sang. After I got that one, I knew that I could do it, and Lance was my biggest motivator in finding that voice. Up until that point I just wasn't sure."
Lyrically, the songs are both personal and universally relatable. 'Buried Alive' is a deeply moving and confessional song about the loss of Dimebag Darrell. "I drowned myself in cases of whiskey after he died. I was drowning in that black water and I had to find me, ya' know? It's one of those songs that really kind of just came out. 'You're on your own now, Jack. What're you gonna do?' The whole record is really cathartic." Conversely, 'What Comes Around Goes Around' could be about "your mailman, your neighbor, or your wife. It's saying, "you made your bed, lay in it. I'm clean on my side of the street, how's yours going?"".
Musically, 'Crossing Lines', the first single to be taken from the album, has a monstrous 'In Through The Out Door' vibe, 'The Best Of Me' has echoes of Pink Floyd, while 'Get Yourself Alright', is something of an ode to 'Strawberry Fields Forever', but with a swift-kick of rock 'n' roll. Then there's the extremely catchy 'Grace', which is "something you would never expect to hear off a Rex Brown record and that's exactly why I did it. It's just a really great song, period. Bottom line."
'Smoke On This...' was produced by New Yorker turned Nashville transplant Caleb Sherman, a multi-instrumentalist who has worked on records by Little Big Town and Porter Block, among others. "Caleb produced the project from a musician's standpoint," adds Brown; "not just a typical producer's standpoint, which was something I definitely needed. Between Caleb and Lance, we were a force to be reckoned with." Drums were tracked by Christopher Williams, no stranger to diverse tastes, from funk music to punk, whose talent has been utilized by country music star Lee Greenwood, the reconstituted Blackfoot and most recently, power metal legends Accept.
Rex states that "We're not going to necessarily cater to metal fans, but the guys who grew up with Pantera, a lot of them love all the same stuff that I grew up on, too. This is just something else I'm doing for fun, man. And musical Freedom. Fun has to come into it or I'm not going to do it. I've had a tremendous career and now I feel like I'm thirty years old again. This has given me that freedom I needed. I've got so much more in me; I'm just getting my feet wet."