Released: 2014, Frontiers Records
California Breed is a trio that includes veteran rockers Glenn Hughes, Jason Bonham and relative newcomer on guitar, Andrew Watt. The band’s self-titled debut combines elements of the old and new, with much of Hughes and Bonham’s Black Country Communion project coming through. Old would be the 70s styled rock riffs and Hughes incredibly robust vocals, recalling Robert Plant’s glory days and Hughes being in his 60s! New would be the very subtle rhythmic influences of Grunge, which 23 year old guitarist Watt listened to while growing up. New would also be the slick, modern production qualities. However, make no mistake this is mostly classic hard rock with touches of heaviness, incorporating elements of Zeppelin, Cream, and even some Deep Purple (surprise).
The chemistry of the band is unmistakable and Watt proves to be a well-versed student of rock rhythm. “The Way” opens thing with a stuttering Zeppelin style riff, and some of Hughes most versatile vocal work on the album. Bonham is the glue that makes things stick, providing what is needed without overplaying. “Sweet Tea” is a catchy song, unmistakably due to the blatant pirating of Robert Palmer’s “Simply Irresistible” riff for the verse. “Midnight Oil” is another standout tune, with a catchy riff and nods to Zeppelin before a Rolling Stones chorus. The band carves its way through an album of tunes, never straying far from the importance of riff and timing at the expense of more technical flourishes.
Despite the many positive and admirable elements in the album, there are some undeniable flaws as well. The guitar tone is overdriven and fuzzy on the entire album, a sound that eventually becomes as tiresome as AC/DC on endless repeat. “All Falls Down” is unplugged and serves as a badly needed injection of guitar variety on an album with few departures. True to the Grunge influences of Watt, solos and technical flourish are a rare occurrence. That is not a problem if the songs are all crown jewels, but unfortunately that is not the case. One final note is that from a band of veterans, you would have hoped for less derivative material. “Breathe” is a White Stripes/Jack White impersonation and I have already pointed out the Robert Palmer rip-off on “Sweet Tea”.
In sum, CALIFORNIA BREED is an interesting and often enjoyable album. Hughes’s vocals are simply fantastic, and Bonham offers some of the best drumming of his career. A bit more variety and songs with a more original vibe would have helped propel things higher. Fans of Black Country Communion, Led Zeppelin, Jack White and 70s riff-rock in general will likely find a few nuggets to enjoy on this trio’s debut.