It takes nerve to not only open your album with a cover, but to open your album with, essentially, a cover of a cover. Case in point: the first tune on Future X’s rocking Down on the Upside CD is Stevie Wonder’s classic, “Higher Ground,” performed in high style á la the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Do they get a pass? Yup, given that this version kicks heinie the way a great bar band version should.
With big guitars, a thunderous rhythm section and the mysteriously named The X providing spot-on vocals, “Higher Ground” makes a great album starter after all. The strutting “Right Next Door” follows, with low-slung riffs and passionate vocals from The X that recall a bluesier version of Journey’s Steve Perry. Craig Turner slices through with guitar leads that artfully weave their way around the singer.
“Right Next Door” seamlessly transitions into “ Shade of Gray,” which adds nuance to the crunch. “Yesterday may become a new tomorrow,” sings The X, while keyboard string flourishes and a melancholy piano break punctuate the song and complement the chugging guitars with a dignified air.
Future X flex their clean pop chops on “Holding My Own,” which is driven by piano, spare guitars and a classy saxophone solo. “Wounds will heal/this much I do know,” intones The X, giving the song an uplifting, hopeful vibe to go with its sunny tone. Then it’s back to big-time rocking with “Cry Just a Little.” Oh, yeah, there’s actually a flute solo in this one. Forgive me, Rick Brown, for only being able to picture Will Ferrell playing that very capable solo. The title track opens with gossamer keyboards before it moves into a stirring, anthemic rock tune.
If ballads are your thing, you’ll love the acoustic-fueled “The Letter” and the sweet, lighters-aloft-worthy “Whisper Your Name.” Whether they want to admit it or not, Future X are just as tender as they are tough. As befits a band that puts an electric guitar on the cover of their album, the boys close this solid, professional-sounding effort (tracked in Fort Wayne at Tempel Recording) with the rollicking “Don’t Believe a Word” — which should be sonic heaven to the ears of Thin Lizzy fans. The album’s title is only half right; there’s plenty of upside to be found on Down on the Upside.
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Marcus King Band
July 21 • Sweetwater Performace Pavilion