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Album Reviews : Rex Brown – Smoke On This

By on July 14, 2017

The artist formerly known as the bass player in heavy metal gargantuan Pantera can now lay claim to a solo album. This album feature’s Rex Brown in a very unfamiliar guise, supplying the guitar tracks and the albums main vocal. Is Smoke on This… any good?

If I had no background on the music contained on Smoke on This I may not have paid it much attention to be frank. Because its Rex though, I gave it a fair slog particularly in the car as I tend to do a lot of driving. I found that the music was a wonderful accompaniment to the long stretches of road I traverse across regional QLD.

Like QLD’s fabled cane fields and vast tropical rain forest patches, ever encouraged to reach further into the sky courtesy of the almost constant pantomime of heavy rainfall and brilliant sunshine, Smoke on This is a dynamic album full of surprising contrasts.

It wasn’t without some genuine anticipation that I ended up having a good chat to Rex recently. I caught him at the tail end of a day full of discussions with international media so he was understandably nearing the end of his tether. I had to smile as here I am, talking to the man that I consider to be one of the preeminent heavy metal bass players about his first solo album as a singer and guitarist. So many other questions I wanted to ask… yet the opportunity to ask Rex about his array of Spector and MusicMan Stingray basses, onstage amplification and gnarly stage presence alongside the guitarist that many consider to be mainstream metals GOAT guitarist would allude me.

I am a bass player who plays guitar, in that order. Rex is the same. His guitar playing is rhythmically not unlike that of his approach to the bass which allowed me to listen to the album from a rather unique perspective.

Where the album works best is when Rex leans back and creates a song that gives his percussive guitar playing some room to breathe. The mid-tempo songs on the album are easily my favourite and I’d humbly suggest to the man himself that this is where his genuine talent is most obvious.

The track’s that really caught my attention start with the fourth album cut, “Buried Alive”. On “Buried Alive”, the ‘middle eight’ section marries a perfectly weighted vocal refrain with suitably serpentine lead guitar breaks. “Get Yourself Alright” contains a generous George Harrison guitar-as-sitar lashing against some Beatles style vocal harmonies. The piano laced “Fault Line” again peddles Beatles vocal harmonies against a swirling guitar accompaniment. Rex’s singing comes into its own on these tracks, his voice could be described as an amalgam of both Ace Frehley and Ministry’s iconoclastic frontman, Al Jourgensen.

The ‘rockier’ parts of the album contain a groove heavy 70’s hard rock vibe. Deep Purple, Blue Cheer, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath… hardly surprising given Rex’s open love for rock’n’roll from the bell-bottomed era. “Train Song”, “Lone Rider” “Crossing Lines” and “So Into You” all could appear as a re-worked version of a lost classic from one of the mentioned bands.

I also really enjoyed the album closer, “Best of Me”, which is where Pink Floyd, Deep Purple and Sabbath meet under a lava lamp for a philosophical meander about the meaning of life… use your imagination on that one!

I’ve read other commentators refer to the sound across Smoke on This… as similar to Black Label Society or Alice In Chains, particularly the solo efforts of one of 90’s rock music’s best guitar protagonist, Jerry Cantrell. I guess I can kind of understand where they are coming from but I’d suggest that the album is better appreciated as a Beatles and 70’s hard rock homage.

I thoroughly enjoy the album but then I gave it plenty of listens. Will you, dear reader be prepared to do the same?

Band: Rex Brown
Album: Smoke On This
Year: 2017
Genre: Hard Rock
Label:  eOne Music
Origin: USA


Andrew is a musician who has spent many years performing on the stages of the pubs and clubs of Queensland. A devotee of the broad church that is rock, punk, funk, jazz and of course all genres of metal... he now shares his enthusiasm via a burgeoning pursuit of music journalism. Follow him on twitter @andymckaysmith