RADIO ROCKERS Highway Jackson.
There was a lot of talk last year about rock's comeback: Metallica, AC/DC, and GNR led a pack of old-school, straight-ahead guitar bands who at least did pretty well at the cash register, even if they didn't exactly break new or original ground. All three hit the Rolling Stone Top 50 for 2008, but so did that Jonas Brothers album, so take that with a grain of salt.
Locally, Loverless, This Way, and now Highway Jackson are forging a bit of a rock renaissance in Portland. While this is still an indie kind of town, soaring guitar solos seem like they're coming back into vogue. Jackson make their case next weekend with the release of The Dirty Bar Campaign, 10 songs of fiery riffs, soaring vocals, and heart-thumping bass drums. While, like the national set, they may not reinvent the rock wheel, they do make a good case for joining them in a few late nights running with the devil.
In fact, with their album title, following on their 2007 EP, Leave Your Girl Pants at Home, I think they undersell themselves. While it's true they funded the disc with a series of cover shows in bars, dirty and otherwise, throughout the state, they don't really need to announce that to the world. And the album doesn't have much to do with dirty bars or cover bands, anyway, so why not focus on the positive: Frontman Kris Rodgers has a nice set of pipes (no wonder he was pegged as Chris Cornell for a recent Clash of the Titans); guitarist Tyler Johnson can rip a solo (I'm going with a mix of Eddie van Halen, Mike McCready, and Slash); and Brandon Reynolds (rhythm guitar), Corey Pacillo (bass), and Mike Bean (drums) can drive a big radio song just as easily as they coax along a soft ballad.
Bean opens the album, actually, with a crisp drum lead on "So Fine" that's joined after a couple bars by a riff that might remind you of R.E.M.'s "Orange Crush" and a set of handclaps that underscore radio-rock vocals that are mixed right up in front and impossible to miss. Rodgers is in that Geddy Lee/Cornell/Brad Delp class of high-register vocalists who tread the edge of screaming but have enough body to keep it from sounding too shrill. The tune's a classic rock take on the unattainable girl ("she's got the devil in her eyes"), and Rodgers toes the party line. His: "She drinks wine like water/It's one of the tricks her momma taught her." Ben Harper's: "Funny things she learns from her momma/Like the way she throws her head back when she's swallowing pills." And a line from "She's Country": "A hell-raisin' sugar when the sun goes down/Mama taught her how to rip up a town."
Later, on "Hold it Down," a more downtempo tune with clipped vocals in the chorus, they seem to acknowledge their rock roots and get a bit post-structural: "Only the strong survive/What can you do/It's all in the heat of the night/Between me and you." That's a progression from Elvis to Ray Charles to REO Speedwagon to Pat Benatar to Bryan Adams, right there. (Actually, to show you how clichû Adams has always been, he has two different songs boasting both "only the strong survive" and "in the heat of the night.")