Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Million $ Reload - Rock & Roll Straight Up with No Chaser

A Saint's Sinner is Million $ Reload's excellent new hard rock record, out this month on Frontiers records. Let's do a little catching up, if you're not already onboard....

Million $ Reload is a phrase that comes from the card game Texas Hold 'Em - it's a mythical situation that would guarantee a win at every turn. It turns out that rock and roll is just as 'mythical.' If there was anything right in this old world you'd already know M$R. However, after releasing Anthems for a Degeneration in 2008, an album hailed in some quarters as being "the best hard rock debut since G&R's Appetite For Destruction", M$R disappeared from international radar having barely set foot in America.

"Well, we had a little problem with our label going under, but now we're back on track," says lead singer/songwriter Phil Conalane, with more than a bit of humble good nature.

Phil is yet another fantastic Irish rock singer in the classic mold - he's not given to bold exclamations unless there's a microphone in his hand and a fire breathing rock band behind him, but when there is, he makes a lot of beautiful noise. A Sinner's Saint is M$R's second album, and the band seems content to let the music do the talking - and it does so brilliantly. Classic Rock Magazine just gave them a big nod, and 8 out of 10 points on the rock and roll Richter scale. As Phil so elegantly states, "Let's just say, Tony, that the record, it's being, as they say, 'well received!'"

"We don't work real hard at it, we just try to do what comes natural to us," Conalane elaborates, "We generally just get in a room and knock the songs together."

He makes it sound as if great riffs and hummable melodies grew on trees, and he and his band mates casually pick them at will. And maybe they do - a listen to either of the band's two long players will convince you that they are indeed gifted in the rarest of ways. Hard rock bands come about a buck a dozen these days, and to be honest, I cringe when I see most of them coming, so it is an honor and a thrill to hear records that genuinely excite me. I've been listening to hard rock for 40 years now, and when I tell Phil that A Sinner's Saint sounds four decades old, I mean it in the best sense. If you play this record between AC/DC's Highway To Hell and Def Leppard's On Through The Night you'll get what I am saying. It doesn't shrink a bit, and it fits perfectly in the pantheon of great hard rock.

Bullets In The Sky came my way via its being chosen as Track of the Week by the UK's best rock publication, and why it was chosen is obvious. Off with an insistent bit of riffing, a rock steady high hat sets the scene. A howling bit of feedback rides just on the crest of the wave, and a voice that sounds like it was born of Belfast, Bon Scott, and whiskey tells us, "It's a long way down, and there's no way out." By now, the full kit is being hammered righteously with a furious back beat, and one of the hookiest pre-choruses to come down the pike in ages instantly has you humming along with some glorious background vocals - Conalane writes some seriously melodic parts that sit wonderfully on top of a guitar team that sounds as good as Gorham and Robertson did in the early days when Thin Lizzy established their kingdom of the realm of twin guitars. Again and again, this album put smiles upon my face as the band fills every space with inventive and cool riffs, fills, and solos. There's no weak link apparent as the rhythm section is not just a driving, propulsive machine, they are extremely musical.

Produced by Neal Caulderwood (The Answer, The Almighty), A Sinner's Saint is a classic straight ahead rock record. The guitars are brash and in your face, but they never swallow up the vocals. There are loads of quality guitar parts from stem to stern - Andy Mackle and Brian Mallon toss things back and forth as if they've been playing together for ages. I asked Conalane if as lead singer and main songwriter it was much of a task to sort out having two great players in the same outfit?

Conalane, "No, not at all. We aren't really an ego driven band - we tend to work things out together and try to do what best serves the song."

Serve the songs they do - this bunch sounds as if they've been gigging since the cradle. One of the things that I love about the album is that it sounds very organic. It never sounds contrived or forced. Conalane has the voice of the ages, as timeless as they come. To hear him tell it, it comes as natural as rolling out of bed in the morning (though he's sounds like his mornings might begin about early evening). I don't really think the guy has any idea just how rare and difficult is the art of really good hard rock. As I said, over the last twenty years I've come to rue the appearance of a bunch of unruly haired, tattooed wannabes with Marshall stacks, but this bunch has eased my jaded soul, and for that I am greatly appreciative.

Conalane, "Aw, c'mon, man. You must get loads of great records to listen to all the time, right?"

I told him that I sure wished that were true, but really, I hear about two, or three albums a month that really make me smile, and for one of them to be a straight ahead hard rock record is a true rarity.
"All we ever wanted to do was right proper frickin' rock songs. Songs that people could relate to and make rock fans say, 'Here's a rock and roll band playing genuine rock and roll with no bullshit and no frills, and they're having a blast doing it!' That's all we want to do, write and perform kick ass rock and roll and stick to our principles. We're not trying to reinvent the wheel. The bottom line for us is that a good song is a good song. Isn't that what it's all about?" Phil Conalane.
Million $ Reload are wrapping up 2012 with European festival appearances, and as many gigs as they can muster. High in their hopes is international travel, more shows, and hopefully a trip to the US. They have the machinery of Frontiers Records behind them, which should bode well for their aspirations becoming reality. This time around, their label is not going to go belly up and waylay M$R's destiny.

The best thing for you to do would be to plonk down a few bucks for both of the band's records, and get hip to one of the finest hard rock outfits on the planet. They should not stay 'little known' to American ears for long - they've played Download three times, appeared at Donington, Hard Rock Hell, and loads of European gigs while waiting for a place for their records to call home, which they've now done by connecting with Frontiers. There's two albums worth of hard rocking that will prime your pump until they can make it to a town near you.

Most days I'm a bit wordier, but I'm going to follow the lead of my Irish brothers-in-rock, and let the music do the talking. If you give it a taste, you're most likely going to order up a full helping.

Thanks to Million $ Reload, Phil Conalane, Frontiers Records, and Dustin Hardman

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