For his first solo disc in five years, Hagar has assembled an all-star cast of ‘friends’ which include Montrose alumni Bill Church & Denny Carmassi , Heart’s Nancy Wilson, Taj Mahal, Kid Rock, Joe Satriani, Michael Anthony and Journey’s Neil Schon. With Hagar’s list of friends including band mates from all points of his career, it is a bit noticeable (and somewhat humorous) that the Van Halen brothers are absent. The strengths on this album are when Hagar leverages these friends and returns to the 70’s hard rock that he played with Montrose. The album’s weakness is when Hagar goes down a pop-country path and sings duets with Ronnie Dunn (Brooks and Dunn) and Toby Keith.
The disc starts out on a strong note with the stomping blues rocker “Winding Down” where Hagar is joined on vocals by blues man Taj Mahal. This is followed by “Not Going Down”, which is a 70’s hard rock number that was written for Hagar by Rival Sons’ Jay Buchanan and features Montrose band mates Bill Church and Denny Carmassi along with ‘southern’ backing vocals from Claytoven Richardson, Sandy Griffith & Omega Rae. Hagar next covers Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus” and reinterprets the song as a guitar-grinding blues number (with nice leads from Neal Schon) and big ‘southern’ backing vocals from the same trio of backup singers as on the previous track.
Hagar then completely switches gears and goes into the New Orleans’ soft-rocker “Father Sun” which features backing vocals from Hagar’s son Aaron and eclectic instrumentation that combines electric guitar with lap steel, accordion and mandolin. “Knockdown Dragout” features Kid Rock sharing the vocals and this track has a “Marilyn Manson – Beautiful People” groove that features guitar work from Joe Satriani (though Satch’s leads aren’t showcased until the end of the song). Hagar’s second cover, Bob Seger’s “ Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” is solid but misses the drive of the original. “Bad on Fords and Chevrolets” has a nice rock beat but has too much of a country twang for my taste with Hagar trading off vocals with Dunn. I never liked Jimmy Buffet’s “Margaritaville” so Hagar’s slowed down version (and changing the lyrics to “Waboritaville” is pure cheese) makes me quickly hit “next” on the CD player. “We Need an Island” is another slow number featuring intricate percussion from the Dead’s Mickey Hart, a Tahitian ukulele and shared vocals from Nancy Wilson. This isn’t a bad number but it sounds like a Stephen Stills AOR number and bears no resemblance to the tracks that opened the disc. The disc ends on a strong note with a live in-the-studio run through of “Going Down” (which was made popular by The Jeff Beck Group), featuring raw vocals from Hagar and blistering guitar leads from Neal Schon.
Sammy Hagar and Friends