The rise to fame and tragic demise of the late David Byron has been well documented in the years following his alcohol related death in 1985. In a nutshell, after fronting the British rock band Uriah Heep for ten albums and countless tours the charismatic front man was ousted from the group in 1976 and never really recovered from it, both personally and professionally. Without strong songwriting partners like Ken Hensley and Mick Box from Heep for Bryon to lean on his solo career unfortunately never reached the heights he had achieved with Heep.
By 1981 David was fronting his own band and On The Rocks was the first album under this new moniker. Together with a new songwriting partner in guitarist Robin George the duo spent the better part of a year writing the bulk of the material that eventually made its way onto the original eight song vinyl release. Now reissued by Angel Air records Byron's fans can once again enjoy this record which comes with three added bonus tracks recorded shortly before his passing.
The first two tracks "Rebecca" and "Bad Girl" finds the band tearing out of the gates and erasing any doubts as to whether or not this new songwriting partnership would be able to deliver the goods. David's voice is in fine form on "Rebecca" which is an old fashioned straight ahead bruiser made all the more effective by George's hook laden guitar riffs, Bob Jackson's rollicking piano and some nice complementary sax work from Mel Collins. Likewise the sleazy come hither vocal approach he adopts on "Bad Girl" is the perfect match for Robin's bluesy riffs. The energy level starts to sag a bit on the third number "How Do You Sleep?" but immediately picks up the minute George's catchy opening guitar riffs explode forth from the fourth cut "Start Believing". The band absolutely cooks on this track as they serve up a funky, hard rock stew that allows George to peel off some ripping solos to sit alongside Mel's inspired sax playing, while David does his best to match the considerable amount of intensity that is pouring out of his new band. "Piece Of My Love" is another standout, but on "Never Say Die" and "King" Byron sounds like he's simply going through the motions. The disc does conclude on a high note as David's subdued and smooth sounding vocal melodies take center stage on "Little By Little". The three bonus tracks are also surprisingly strong, considering these were some of Byron's last recordings (more of which can be found on last year's Angel Air release Lost And Found). There is a certain raw appeal to these recordings which are dominated by Robin George's super charged riffs and blistering solos. Not to mention David's vocal performance on "One Minute More" is as tender as it is heartbreaking to listen to, as he is clearly having some difficulty reaching some of the higher notes towards the end of this songs.
Unless you're a diehard David Byron fan I wouldn't consider On The Rocks to be an essential purchase as it is a fairly uneven album. However, that being said although they are rather few and far between, there's a decent amount of musical fireworks on display here and credit should be given to Robin George for keeping this one afloat at times. As for David, this album demonstrates that any thoughts of him being written off for good at this stage of his career were a bit premature, because when the spirit moved him and he was on the top of his game, David Byron was definitely one of the best vocalists the rock world has ever seen.
2) Bad Girl
3) How Do You Sleep?
4) Start Believing
5) Never Say Die
6) Piece Of My Love
8) Little By Little
9) Fool For A Pretty Face (bonus track)
10) Safety In Numbers (bonus track)
11) One Minute More (bonus track)