Three years ago, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Ricky Byrd released his acclaimed album, Clean Getaway, a record aimed at helping people struggling with addiction as he once did. The former Joan Jett and the Blackhearts guitarist has been sober for over 30 years and dedicates much of his time working as a recovery coach for other addicts. The response was so positive to Clean Getaway that Byrd decided to have a go at it again with his new release, Sobering Times, an album rich in classic rock hooks but, more importantly, rich with a message of hope for those struggling as he once did.
Produced by Byrd and Bob Stander -- who played bass, percussion, and guitar on "The Bottle Let Me Down" -- Sobering Times is a master class in gritty, Stones-influenced rock and roll. Byrd collaborated with the likes of Richie Supa and Emily Duff, and the top-notch band includes Steve Holley, formerly of Wings, and Jeff Kazee of Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes fame, among others.
Jangly guitars and a memorable melody punctuate album opener "Quittin' Time (Again)." Byrd delivers a gritty vocal that has a heavy Stones/Springsteen vibe without ever sounding derivative. A bit of b-bender gives the song just a hint of country in this strong lead off track. A Gary Glitter drumbeat propels the rocking "Together," a driving track with a melodic, stadium-ready chorus and a dose of psychedelia in parts of the vocals.
Byrd slows down the pace on "Hear My Song," a bluesy track showcasing some tasty mandolin and country-tinged guitar leads. Once can sense the joy Byrd has in his voice while conveying his message of hope to those in need. Byrd's group sounds like the world's greatest bar band on a sizzling "Tired," a song that is anything but tired musically. Byrd delivers a strong vocal and the song features some tasteful slide playing.
On the up-tempo "Recover Me," Byrd duets with Willie Nile, who co-wrote the track. The song is a driving rocker with a strong, melodic chorus and some sizzling lad guitar work from Byrd. Byrd does a rock and roll take on Merle Haggard's "The Bottle Let Me Down," with Stanton getting a chance to show off his considerable lead guitar chops. This is country through a Keith Richards filter with killer results.
The album closes with "Just Like You," a ballad dedicated to those who think they are alone in their struggle. Byrd gives a strong vocal and the song's stripped down approach gives emphasis to the message in the lyrics.
With Sobering Times, Byrd has constructed a strong set of tunes that sound as if they could have come from rock's glory days. With strong playing and singing, well-crafted songs and a strong message for those in need, Sobering Times is a winner.