LoneRider is a supergroup of sorts, as it brings together a few well known faces from the world of melodic rock. Another musical union between FM vocalist Steve Overland and Heartland guitarist Steve Morris, the band already has a great pedigree since both musicians released some fine music under the Shadowman name as well as with their main recording acts. For fans of both parties, expectations for a new project were already high, but LoneRider’s debut ‘Attitude’ exceeds everything Shadowman had released to date…and at least half of FM’s own work.
Taking a sidestep from Shadowman’s fusion of AOR with classic hard rock in the Thunder and moving far further towards a smoother Bad Company inspired sound, the slight shift brings out the very best in Overland’s already great voice and allows Morris to play in a far more retro style. Any Bad Company-isms aren’t by accident either, since this project also features BadCo mainstay Simon Kirke on the drum stool…and his weighty but natural swing is evident on most of the material. Rounding out the band is their old Shadowman cohort Chris Childs (also of Tyketto and Thunder) on bass.
We’ve all encountered supergroups that are a case of “too many cooks”, but that’s really not the case here. LoneRider’s debut ‘Attitude’ sounds very natural and free of egos; it’s a record that’s more than willing to let the songs speak for themselves, rather than merely trumpeting the presence of a few musical heroes in the hopes that that would be enough. The quality is clear from the off as ‘My Imagination’ opens with a brief but fiery guitar sound from Morris, leading the band into a huge melodic rocker that is tailor made for Overland’s voice. A slightly mechanical mood during the verses comes across like a fusion of ‘Eliminator’ era ZZ Top and a more AOR-centic Bad Company (something that very often allows Overland to play to his strengths) before an even more commercial chorus brings things a little further in line with FM themselves. It’s one of those choruses that only needs three or four plays before you feel like you’ve known it forever, so in many ways, LoneRider go in with best foot forward…but, believe it or not, the album actually gets better.
If ‘My Imagination’ more than hinted at Bad Company’s more AOR inflected material, the band’s title song ‘LoneRider’ pulls no punches when it comes to playing homage to that legacy act. From the outset, Kirke sets up a mid-paced rhythm, over which Morris lays down a very Mick Ralphs inspired riff and Overland taps into the bluesier side of his voice, almost sounding as if he’s deliberately trying to mimic Paul Rodgers at times. As far as a homage goes, it’s less than subtle, but at the same time, it’s very hard to find fault with the results, especially with the players in such good form.
Another stand-out, ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Dreamer’ presents some lovely semi-acoustic sounds that hark back to the great BadCo ballads – always that band’s strong suit – as well as having a few echoes of Tyketto ballads such as ‘Standing Alone’ along the way. The combination of Overland’s rich vocal and a sparingly used dobro give the number a great late 70s/early 80s sound and a harmonious chorus lifts the track far enough to make it a highlight despite being reliant on possible clichés within the lyric. In terms of soft rock with an old soul, it’s almost perfectly executed, such as you’d expect from musicians with such a huge combined CV. Equally good, the slow and bluesy ‘Hard Heart To Break’ allows Overland to really unleash his inner Paul Rodgers on a really heartfelt performance, but the slower approach also gives Morris more room to impress with some emotive guitar leads. Combine these musical strengths with a few vaguely Def Leppard-ish backing vocals and you have a retro melodic rocker that’ll please many classic rock fans.
There are plenty of FM influences played out during the melodious rocker ‘Fast Train’, an absolutely fantastic number where Overland’s enthused vocals are a great companion to the other Steve’s bluesy guitar leads. With both musicians sounding at the top of their game there’s a lot to love here, especially in the way Morris fills musical space with tasteful playing that values emotion over flashiness. A couple of listens suggests this is destined to be a fan favourite, while the perky ‘One In A Million’ also sounds like something that would have been a classic on any number of FM albums. The intro utilising some great twin leads gets things off to a cracking start, but with Overland easing into a natural performance, the quality very much continues. Morris contributes a short but impeccable solo and the rhythm section lock into a good groove throughout, often making the overall mood feel like a blend of FM and BadCo, which is more than understandable. It’s genuinely great – very much another highlight – and that’s before taking on board the album’s best chorus. This number is as catchy as hell.
Elsewhere, you’ll find plenty of driving rock within an upbeat ‘Angel Without Wings’ where the blend of vocals is used to a much stronger advantage leading to some fine AOR; ‘Heart and Soul’ teases with a slightly dirtier guitar, but often retains LoneRiders’ smooth mix of roots and rock (allowing Overland to firmly embrace his inner Rodgers once more) and ‘Rhythm of Life’ gives up all pretence of trying to cover new ground and just recycles bits from a couple of old BadCo classics – right down to Overland sounding more like Rodgers than ever. Each one of these doesn’t think outside of the box; there’s no need. Each one is a fantastic showcase for this union of musicians, but Overland’s voice often seems to be the main focus and he’s in brilliant form throughout. If you’re a fan of his, you’ll find songs to return to time and again.
‘Attitude’ may not be anything new, but it’s a thoroughly enjoyable album. There are no weak tracks and at least seven of the twelve numbers approach the gold standard for timeless melodic rock. For fans of Overland, especially, it’s a must hear since a few of these tunes capture career defining performances. It really is that good. With a combination of great playing and huge 80s tinged choruses, this debut is easily the best melodic rock disc of 2019.