12 songs – 63 minutes
Hit The Road is the debut release by Erie, PA, blues-rockers, The Riff Riders, and very impressive it is too, with strongly written songs, fine playing and crystalline production.
The band comes storming out of the blocks with the title track, an upbeat riff-based heavy blues rocker that nicely foreshadows the rest of the album. Vocalist Amy “Shally” Shallenberger is blessed with a superb voice, and she is backed by Sean Seth on lead and cigar box guitar, Otis James on harmonica, bassist Tony LaPaglia and drummer Joe Caprara. Together they produce an enjoyably assertive sound.
Shallenberger absolutely inhabits the songs she sings, in particular on tracks like “Rich Song”, displaying an admirable restraint that helps to add understated power to her soulful delivery. Seth’s guitar playing is punchy and notably melodic throughout. He is also adept at mixing wah wah guitar in and out of songs, such as on “Bounce Back” and “Open Door”, to ensure it retains maximum impact. Seth takes the majority of the solos on the album, although when James is given an opportunity to let loose on the harmonica, as on “Cut Me Down (12.5 bar blues)” or “Leave Me Alone”, he does not disappoint.
All the songs are original band compositions, often based around a guitar riff as on “Hit The Road”, “Rumours”, “Open Door” or the psycho rockabilly of “Back Door Kenny”, but always staying on the blues side of the blues-rock divide. This is modern day blues with an edge. “Rollin” has echoes of Muddy’s classic riff in “Rollin’ And Tumblin’” but is played with a contemporary attitude and approach.
There is a “tight but loose” feel to the music that suggests the band have played these songs in countless gigs, with the rhythm section of LaPaglia and Caprara playing right in the pocket throughout. The band also clearly understand dynamics, as demonstrated on the ballad “Cut Me Down (12.5 bar blues)”, which uses space enticingly, adding an extra half bar of silence in each verse, which contributes a surprising amount of tension to the song as the anticipated resolution is postponed. Likewise, on the slow grind of “Trouble”, the entire band pulls away, leaving only James’ echoing harmonica before kicking back in with another vintage Seth solo.
The upbeat final track, “Stuck On You”, is perhaps the most “poppy” song on the album, with fine solos by Seth and James, but it’s difficult to listen to it without a smile on your face and an urge to go back to the start of the album to listen to it all again.
For the musicians out there, a nice touch is the listing on the CD sleeve of the vintage instruments used by the band. Their love of all things vintage even extends to using a growling 1965 Harley Davidson panhead to introduce the upbeat rockabilly rock of “My 65” which also features Seth playing a four-string cigar box guitar.
Overall, Hit The Road is a very enjoyable debut release that really doesn’t sound like a debut at all and suggests there is a very bright future for Riff Riders. Warmly recommended.