One of rock’s great sidemen steps out of the shadows
Ok, you probably can’t always believe Wikipedia, but here is a great fact that MV hadn’t considered until looking at the page of Darren Arthur Reed (Dizzy to his mates). Apart from Axl Rose, he’s been in Guns N Roses longer than anyone else. He joined in 1990. That’s mad when you think about it, as mad in fact as the idea that “Rock N Roll Ain’t Easy” is Reed’s first solo album (and according to the page he was on Johnny Crash’s second record – we didn’t know there was a second record, but we will be seeking it out as soon as this review is written…..)
But to get back to the point – eventually – “….Easy” sees Reed and a cast of plenty make 13 (if you count the bonus track) classy slabs of hard rock that, if they don’t quite reinvent any wheels, then dammit they are great fun and brilliantly played.
Arguably starting with its best moment, the rip-roaring “This Don’t Look Like Vegas” (written by the Black Star Riders and The Almighty frontman Ricky Warwick, who also plays guitar here) and if the piano might be turned up just a little higher in the mix than normal, then there are three things to say here 1) He’s Dizzy Reed, he can do what he likes 2) the handclaps at the end are very possibly the most gleeful ever committed to tape and 3) the real star here is Richard Fortus. Reed’s fellow GnR member supplies the solo and crikey, it is everything you ever wanted hard rock to be.
This third point, actually has a little more relevance too. It is indicative of the fact, that no matter how superb the record is Reed himself is content to act as sideman still. Even with his name in lights.
The WASP rhythm section Mike Dupke and Mike Duda provide the muscle here, and “Mother Theresa” is testosterone fuelled, while “Cheers To R Oblivion” might have a real funky, pop side to start with, but it soon settles into the groove.
Indeed, perhaps it’s the three decades in GnR, perhaps it’s natural, but there is something about Reed that seems to find writing arena filling fare pretty damn simple. “Fragile Water” soars, while “Dirty Bomb” which is the perfect hard rock anthem is a real gem amongst many.
It’s the light and shade that makes “….Easy” particularly impressive. “Mystery In Exile” one of the trio that vie for the title of Best Song Here, chugs not unlike The Replacements, before taking its harmonies from the Wall Of Sound and still finding time for a chorus of the more stomping variety.
“I Celebrate” gets rock n roll bonus points for starting with a solo, especially one that is as loose limbed as the Stones and on a song that is a big old swinging dick of a thing knows its ace and doesn’t particularly care what anyone thinks.
Sonically “Rock N Roll Ain’t Easy” is more from the Chinese Democracy end of things than the Appetite For Destruction one as it were – and nowhere is this better shown than on “Understanding”, on which Reed allows himself a brilliant organ solo for good measure, while “Crestfallen” is as grandiose as hard rock can get and still remain great.
There’s a dip into more bluesy waters for the superb “Forgotten Cases” while “Reparations” is at the very least a little punkish – or could cheerfully appear on a Backyard Babies record (as did Reed in 2008, fact fans).
The saxophone on the title track ensures that this LA boy has a hint of the Jersey sound about him, as well as one last effortless chorus. It gives things a mighty end,but does something else too: it makes Dizzy Reed out to be a bit of a liar. If “Rock N Roll Ain’t Easy” like he claims, then he might have made it look a bit harder here. Even if just for show.