You’re never too old to learn. Or its close cousin, you never stop learning are so cliché now perhaps, that they are just the stuff of memes designed as a placebo for the masses.
But, you know, when you think about it, they do sort of ring true more than the usual.
Especially when the phrase “…if you challenge yourself” is added to either of the prefixes above.
Gary Hoey, is a prime example. He’s been playing guitar for 44 years by his own count, and yet for “Neon Highway Blues” he’s out there doing things in a way he never has before.
“I Feel Alive” – and who knows, its perhaps well named, seeing as he sounds totally invigorated here? – begins with an intro that comes on with a real metal edge, and as to prove further that nothing was off limits here, the verses are more melodic hard rock than blues. Sort of like latter period Whitesnake (although if I was being facetious I’d say Hoey sings it better than modern Coverdale ….) it is blues rock with the rock dialled up.
That said, and perhaps because of the anything goes feel, there is a lot of this that could be seen in the classic blues mould. Hoey said he had been listening to the Kings in the making of this and it shows.
Not though, in the opening track. “Under The Rug” is the type of effortless funky stuff that Eric Gales – who guests here – always seems to muster up at will.
“Mercy Of Love”, which features Josh Smith (who also lent his skills to the marvellous recent Reese Wynans’ record) is as timeless a sound as you can imagine, and the slide drenched “Your Kind Of Love” is a real heads down boogie of a cut.
“Still Believe In Love” is a real highlight, and if you were going to explain to someone why the blues remains relevant then you could do way worse than kick off here. The organ work, exquisitely picked out only adds to the feel.
Lance Lopez, adds a kind of ZZ Top type flavour to the highlight that is “Damned If I Do” and the chorus that rhymes the title with “can’t make you love me, baby, if you won’t” is surely what the blues was invented for?
“Living The Highlife” welcomes itself on the back of a groove that Led Zep (or certainly if Black Stone Cherry were covering Led Zep) might be proud of, but there is no doubt here about which is the most emotional.
“Don’t Come Crying” brings generations together. Literally. As Ian Hoey, Gary’s 17-year-old son, joins his dad for an experience that left the older with “tears in his eyes”. The feeling rushes through the speakers too.
But then, hasn’t blues always united through the age gap? The title track – one of three instrumentals here and the absolute best – ends things in a way that suggests that this wonderful music will continue to do so too. The evocative sounds have you floating away down whatever highway you choose.
And that’s just great. Sometimes the best communication doesn’t involve words. You learn that too.
The sound of a true craftsman taking us all on his latest journey. “Neon Highway Blues” is absolutely superb.