Review: Royal Horses – ‘A Modern Man’s Way to Improve’

Originally released as part of Record Store Day 2020, ‘A Modern Man’s Way to Improve’, the debut album from South Mississippi’s Royal Horses, is now available to peruse for those of a non-vinyl nature.

Record Store Day (or “Ebay Day” if you are a cynic) mixes vinyl releases from new acts as well as more established artists, and ‘A Modern Man’s Way to Improve’ is a fitting release to represent such a prestigious event. Class it as “Southern Rock” at your peril though, for that is akin to describing Sturgill Simpson as simply a “Country” artist. Yes, Royal Horses come from the musical hotbed of the American South, yes they have a 70’s flair at times with killer guitar licks (‘There She Walks’ especially), but listeners are just as likely to pick up on a Folk or a Blues influence, or a Bluegrass one for that matter as they are an Allmans influence.

‘A Modern Man’s Way to Improve’ features enough variety which means that Royal Horses would be as comfortable opening for acts such as Jack White or Blackberry Smoke as they would be opening for Sturgill Simpson or Jason Isbell. Opening track ‘Bottom Of The Chart’ hints that Royal Horses might be going down the path marked “Blackberry Smoke” but by the time that the trippy psychedelic feedback strains of ‘BLD’ bring the album to its climax some thirty-odd minutes later: all bet’s are off.

Thanks to the raw, authentic vocals of Shelby Kemp, it’s impossible to figure out what will come next. No point in tying oneself in knots trying to peg the Royal Horses to one particular genre. Just go with the flow and let the warm music flow over you. A track like ‘Rattlesnake Smoking a Cigarette’ for instance, features a Dr. John voodoo vocal performance from Kemp, alongside a Hendrix ‘Crosstown Traffic’ touch to some of his guitar playing. A totally gonzo four minutes. There’s a hint of Bob Dylan here and there throughout the lighter-than-light title track, played at such a whimsical pace in places, which combined with a beautiful alright-alright-alright vibe is irresistible. As is the cool breeze of ‘Valley Of The New’ which features one of those melodies that makes the listeners’ toes instantly start tapping. The subtle work from Kenny Paul Mann on the double bass and Daniel Firth behind the kit is crucial to controlling where the song goes and the end result is especially memorable.

‘A Modern Man’s Way to Improve’ delivers plenty of opportunities to kick up some dust: ‘Who Do You Know’, ‘Leave a Light’, ‘Call It War’, and ‘Ruby Do’ all have enough snap about them to raise the roof, but it’s the sheer unpredictability of the album that thrills the most. That and the hellacious guitar playing.

Vinyl LP (Okemah Roads Records) – available HERE

Stream/Download (High Rise Records) – available HERE 

Connect with Royal Horses here.

Review – Dave

Header image – Randy Sherrell Photography

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