Don Airey, usually a faithful sideman, steps out of the shadows at the tender age of sixty nine to star in his own solo album, One of A Kind.
Airey has plied his trade largely as Jon Lord’s replacement in Deep Purple over most of the last decade, but before this settling down the man’s name has appeared on album sleeves for pretty much the entire pantheon of British hard rock and heavy metal greats, most notably Whitesnake, Rainbow, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and Gary Moore.
One of a Kind is a riotous trip through the sounds and textures of most of these names. Opening track Respect is an exciting maelstrom of Deep Purple and Judas Priest, vocalist Carl Sentance (once of Welsh Priest admirers Persian Risk) giving a tour de force performance behind the mic.
The Hammond-driven All Out of Line sees vocalist Sentance starring again, this time in the role of Glenn Hughes. Airey’s playing is momentous, of course, but so too is that of new (to me) guitarist Simon McBride, who plays the part of bluesy riff god to the hilt here. Rock fans of a certain age are going to lap this up.
One of a Kind is more pompous, strings adding drama to an arrangement that wouldn’t have been out of place on an old Uriah Heep album. Which is weird bacause Heep are one of the great old bands that Airey never came into contact with, at least playing-wise… The soulful Every Time I See Your Face features a simple organ and voice intro that sends shivers down the spine before the band come in to add sparse accompaniment. As a unit (rounded out by bassist and one time Black Sabbath four stringer Laurence Cottle and drummer Jon Finnegan) the band are on fire here, building the song to a fabulous crescendo mid-way through thanks to a spine-tingling solo from McBride.
The nearly power metal-styled Victim of Pain has an intro that wouldn’t go amiss on the next House of Lords album, and if Sentance is not quite Dioesque enough to be fully convincing here he gives his all. But just as you think you have the measure of Airey and his bandmen they take an abrupt turn into seventies soft rock for Running Free. A glorious mix of multi-vocalled choruses and simple yacht rock goodness on the verses, it teaches young pups like The Night Flight Orchestra a thing or two about classic rock, and then some.
Lost Boys goes back to the Purple songbook, whilst Need You So Bad goes the same way after a restrained intro. Children of the Sun is probably this reviewers fave on the record (apart from the bonus tracks, but more of that later), opening up with some Kansasesque Hammond before getting stuck well into some fast-paced hard rock again seemingly designed to show off the best in the Sentance vocal chords. The interplay between McBride and Airey is great, as it is on the perhaps-inevitable instrumental Remember to Call, wherein the moods of Ritchie Blackmore, Moore and Lord are meshed in stylish form.
Stay the Night has a Stevie Wonder feel – Sentance bringing on those Hughes feels again – and it really is rather good, but if you’re lucky enough to get a copy of the album replete with bonus tracks the real highpoint of the album comes next. The live version featured here of Deep Purple’s Pictures of Home is simply, indescribably brilliant. So I’m not going to try and describe it. Simply try and feast your ears on it if you can.
As you’d expect from a musician of Don Airey’s standing this album is quite superb from start to finish, and there quite literally is not a weak point anywhere on it that I’m able to detect. If you grew up listening to the greats of British rock like I did then you must buy this album. And when you do, you must love it.
One of a Kind is out now.