Despite its ever-baffling profitability, countryfied ‘70s hard rock is a played out musical trend in the 21st century. Anything interesting in this genre was probably achieved between 1970 and 1975, and any revival is a pale substitute. So teenage guitarist Aaron Keylock isn’t exactly off to a good start occupying this music space. But credit’s due where credit’s due: Keylock is a very good guitarist, especially for his age. This shows throughout his debut, ‘Cut Against the Grain’, in spades. While the music is largely uninteresting, the guitar work is fantastic in places.
Unfortunately, the songwriting is as clichéd as can be. ‘All the Right Moves’ and ‘Down’, open the album with a pair of boring hard-rockers, while the mid-paced ‘Medicine Man’ sounds like an Aerosmith B-side.
‘Just One Question’ probably isn’t intended as a meta-commentary on Led Zeppelin’s well-documented plagiarism, but it’s lifting of the entire ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’ instrumental means it could be. It’s not that re-use of other artists’ music is inherently bad: Keylock himself has described the track as a “blues song”, so it makes sense. But he does absolutely nothing interesting with it, and this comes off as a lack of creativity.
‘Falling Again’ at least makes good use of its ‘Sympathy for the Devil’-inspired chants, and incorporates more intriguing musical elements than most of ‘Cut Against the Grain’, standing out as one of the album’s better tracks.
The album quickly descends into a mess of cut-and-paste blues-rock filler (‘Spin the Bottle’, ‘Sun’s Gonna Shine’) and disingenuous ballads (‘Try’, ‘No Matter the Cost’). However, a late stand-out is ‘That’s Not Me’, which at least sounds like it has some weight and earnest behind it.
‘Cut Against the Grain’ is, for all it’s effort and sincerity, not a great album. Aaron Keylock is far from untalented, and there are some interesting ideas now and again, but none of these are ever fully tapped into and the album falls far short of its potential.
‘Cut Against the Grain’ by Aaron Keylock is out now on Provogue/Mascot Label Group.
Words by Alan Cunningham (@funeral_polis)