Sound — 8
As blues rock revivalists carving riffs that emulate Led Zeppelin and vocals inspired by Bad Company, Rival Sons may not be as big of a brand name as The Black Keys or Jack White, but their consistent activity within the past seven years has not only resulted in a substantial catalog of albums promoting good ol' retro rock (with their fourth album, "Great Western Valkyrie," hitting #1 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart), but they've also earned accolades from veterans bands of the era they're inspired by; most recently, they've toured with Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Famers Aerosmith and Deep Purple, and are also gearing up to support Black Sabbath on their farewell tour later this year.
Now on their fifth album, "Hollow Bones," Rival Sons still tick the expected boxes of their blues rock revival, whether it be the fundamentally-built riff in the opening "Hollow Bones Pt. 1," the call-and-response chorus in "Baby Boy," or the slow-burning "Hollow Bones Pt. 2" that contains a hint of psychedelia. In more notable moments, the guitar layering in "Pretty Face" is impressively stacked (wait for the three-part harmony in the solo), and though Scott Holiday doesn't rip into a guitar solo at every turn, his activity shines in the stark blues cut of "Black Coffee," where vocalist Jay Buchanan also goes full-on blues in his soulful singing, reinforced by a proper backup singing trio. And where Holiday gets ballady in his Clapton-esque melodies in "Fade Out," drummer Mike Miley ends up stealing the spotlight later on with a siege of drum fills.
Though their instrumental skills stay up to par compared to their previous works, the lack of varied instrumentation is a lingering drawback in "Hollow Bones," and only a couple new tricks are brought to the table in the album's relatively short span. Rival Sons employ an organic string section in the final ballad of "All That I Want," which succeed in sprucing up the fingerpicking acoustic guitar lead that, alone, pales in comparison to the acoustic ballad that closed their 2012 album "Head Down." There's also a bit of noise-play utilized, heard in scratchy guitars in the bridge of "Hollow Bones Pt. 1" and the wonky effected guitars used in parts of "Fade Out" and "Hollow Bones Pt. 2," but it doesn't recur enough on the album to be a substantial and different theme to mix up Rival Sons' standard blues rock recipe.
Lyrics — 6
In keeping with the classic rock emulation, Buchanan continues to write his lyrics in the same straightforward fashion, but this time around, there's a noticeable decline in their intrigue. This is mostly due to "Hollow Bones" not containing any bona fide storytelling that Buchanan has done in previous albums, and whatever subjects Buchanan sings about are very cut-and-dried, whether it be the scene of infidelity in "Pretty Face" ("Never thought that a memory would leave me with such an open wound / But watching him all over you on the floor of my living room"), the gun-toting youngster in "Baby Boy" ("Now look at the baby boy with a gun in his hand / It's always do as I say, never do as I do"), or the worship of "Hollow Bones Pt. 2" ("Said I believe / God gonna save me / Lord rescue me / 'Cause I believe"). Buchanan gets most colorful in his ode to caffeine in "Black Coffee," where his comparison of it to black tea in the second verse acts as an easy metaphor to the United States being better than the United Kingdom ("Black tea / Well it's as good as it can possibly be / But it's a cup of black coffee / That's what a working man needs / Back in America / That's the land of the free"), but in all other cases, his lyrics in the album are serviceable at best.
Overall Impression — 7
With the trend of blues rock revival starting to cool off after years of running hot, Rival Sons and their faithfulness to their role as revivalists/emulators of the classic rock sound bears a catch 22 that starts to rear its head in "Hollow Bones." While Rival Sons have the songwriting formula down to a T and perform it well, it's a formula that also leaves little room to grow, generally resulting in nothing that much different than what has been heard in their previous albums. In a take it or leave it sense, more of the same can work alright until it becomes beating a dead horse, but as a band now on album #5, it might be time for Rival Sons to start looking into more ways to innovate their root sound before things start to get noticeably stale.