Space Between

Sammy Hagar & The Circle

BMG/Universal, 2019

http://www.redrocker.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/28/2020

 “Ain't it a blessin' / To do what you want to do"
– Shawn Mullins, “Twin Rocks, Oregon”

The above quote came to mind during my first listen to the latest from the irrespressible Sammy Hagar, who, whether or not he’s actually the hardest-working man in showbiz, definitely loves his work, and definitely brings a certain showbiz flair to just about everything he does. This time out the singer-songwriter-guitarist-entrepreneur-author-TV host-lifestyle icon has gathered his band of the moment The Circle for a run at, of all things, a concept album.

Well, hell, why not? At this point, 70-something CEO Sammy can do pretty much whatever he wants, whenever he wants to. The irony being, the megarich grandad-bro who made his mark 40+ years ago urging my teenaged self to go “Cruisin’ & Boozin’” and “Turn Up the Music” has chosen to make a dead-serious 10-song concept album about the futility of greed and the importance of simple things like human connection, laughter, and love.

Somewhere in America, someone just read the last paragraph and thought: “OK, Boomer.”

But dammit, it works, for two reasons: Hagar sounds energized by a fresh challenge, and his band is right on the mark from start to finish. Hagar has loved the power-trio-with-vocals format ever since early days with the Led Zeppelin-inspired Montrose, and he couldn’t ask for more enthusiastic and compatible bandmates in this kind of undertaking than Vic Johnson (guitars, the Waboritas), Michael Anthony (bass & backing vocals, Van Halen), and Jason Bonham (drums, Led Zeppelin: my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Celebration Day).

When Hagar convened the Circle in 2013, its primary purpose seemed to be to give him the flexibility to cover every phase of his career live, spanning Montrose, Van Halen, Chickenfoot, and 20 or so solo albums, with the addition of a handful of Zep classics that he and Bonham both love to play. Studio work was not the focus, and the group’s 2015 debut album At Your Service was a live one covering all of the aforementioned bases.

Among the things Hagar gets right here is to keep the songs tight and focused, rarely breaking the four-minute mark. Muscular, ominous opener “Devil Came to Philly” clocks in at a spare 2:35, with two verses and an extended outro comprising the entire appetizer of a song. Then we cross-fade directly into the heavier-yet “Full Circle Jam (Chump Change),” a chugging boogie with hard-rock flourishes and a sly Beatles reference (“One for you nineteen for me,” flipping the figures from “Taxman”).

“Can’t Hang” sounds like an outtake from Bon Jovi’s Young Guns II soundtrack sessions, a big, airy acoustic-based number that Hagar carries with an impassioned lead vocal. “Wide Open Spaces” features a similar widescreen folk-rock vibe, something Hagar indicated he’d like to explore with The Circle as early as 2015, though he brings in the electric halfway through to amp it up. That in turns leads into the distinctly Van Halen-styled “Free Man,” featuring a slamming tribal beat, super-crunch guitars, and prominent Anthony harmony vocals.

The second half follows the same template for the most part. Sincere but somewhat goofy anthems? Check (the melodic “No Worries” is both good-natured and ham-handed). That big airy acoustic feel? Check (closer “Hey Hey (Without Greed)”). Prominent Anthony harmonies and a classic rock reference? Check (beside featuring Anthony, “Trust Fund Baby” also borrows enough of Montrose’s iconic “I Got The Fire” riff that Hagar extends Ronnie Montrose a songwriting credit).

On the other hand, “Bottom Line” manages to break formula by adding organ and something of a New Wave beat, and “Affirmation” matches a punchy hard-rock foundation with thoughtful lyrics about believing in yourself.

Hagar has always been more of a boxer than a poet, but he’s a man who knows himself and his fans, and the reaction to this album—which shot to #1 on the Billboard Top Album Sales, US Independent Albums, and Top Rock Albums charts—tells you that he hit the mark here. It might not change the world, but if you set your expectations to “serious-minded Sammy hanging out with his best buds,” Space Between will not disappoint.

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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