Ruf Records – 2016
12 tracks; 49 minutes
Devon Allman continues to produce blues-rock albums that have a wide appeal through the quality of the songwriting, Devon’s distinctive voice and guitar skills. Ride Or Die was recorded in Nashville and was again produced by Tom Hambridge who plays drums throughout. Devon handles lead guitar and vocals with Tyler Stokes on rhythm guitar and bass duties divided between Devon’s touring bassist Stephen Duerst (five tracks), Tyler (one track) and Devon himself on the remainder. Other players are Kevin McKendree on keys, Ron Holloway on sax and Bobby Yang who adds strings to one song. On previous discs Devon has blended his own material with songs from outside the band but here he contributes ten songs, five co-written with Tyler, Tom and Richard Fleming provide one and there is a cover of a Cure song.
“Say Your Prayers” is a dramatic opener with heavy drums and riff emphasising lyrics about preparing for storms, complete with a ground-shaking wah-wah solo. Just when you might be thinking that this is going to be an all-out heavy rock album Devon pins back your ears with the lovely “Find Ourselves”, all lilting chords and Ron’s subtle sax fills building into an anthemic chorus and a fine solo that strikes the perfect note for the song. The title of the album comes from the chorus of “Galaxies” in which Devon asks “when galaxies collide will you ride or die?” A busy rhythm chart is anchored by Kevin’s swirling organ and Devon’s slashing interventions to give a sense of grandeur to the track. “Lost” has wistful lyrics and opens with Devon’s fine vocal over simple acoustic guitar and hand percussion before he adds surprising wah-wah tones that give the tune an almost middle eastern flavor. “Shattered Times” is the Hambridge/Fleming tune, a chugging piece of blues-rock with Tyler and Devon sparring well before Devon launches an exciting solo. Devon warns people to “Watch What You Say” as “real things come back around”, Devon’s extended solo work supported by lots of backing vocals (all Devon) coming at you from across the stereo mix.
The first half of the album is made up of Devon and Tyler’s songs but from here on there are five Devon solo compositions, starting with “Vancouver”, a song about lost love set against acoustic guitars, Ron’s moody sax work and Bobby Yang’s string work. “Pleasure & Pain” offers a warning about drugs: “the thing you think gets you through the night will come and steal away your precious days; you can’t even see you’re trapped inside pleasure and pain”, Devon adding a delicate solo to complement a fine song about a serious issue. “Hold Me” is a short almost pop tune, the acoustic guitars and Kevin’s rolling piano taking the honours while “Live From The Heart” recalls Bryan Adams in his hit-making prime with an acoustic guitar/organ base that provides a great vehicle for Devon’s vocal. Devon sings of the futility of trying to trap the “Butterfly Girl” with a suitably delicate string and piano accompaniment and the album closes with a cover of Robert Smith’s “A Night Like This”, Kevin making a good fist of copying 80’s synth sounds in the intro and Devon using a lot of echo on his vocals to give the song an authentic period feel. Not this reviewer’s favorite cut here but presumably chosen by Devon because he grew up with The Cure’s music.
Devon continues to grow. All his albums contain some gems and are always worth hearing: Ride Or Die is no exception.