Album Review : Simon McBride – The Fighter

by Peter Coates –

Released – 27th May 2022

Northern Ireland native, Simon McBride is currently on the road with Deep Purple filling in for Steve Morse and has released what he is calling his debut solo album The Fighter, via EarMusic. There were three prior albums released, the last of them 10 years ago, so this is a fresh start in recording terms at least.

Ian Gillan thinks Simon is one of the best guitar players in the world! He replaced Def Leppard’s Vivian Campbell in Sweet Savage at age 15, and has also played a full tour as a member of Ian Gillan’s band and has played together with all-time greats like Don Airey in the Don Airey Band, Andrew Strong (The Commitments) and ex-members of Whitesnake in the band Snakecharmer.

Simon may be one of the greatest blues / rock guitarists that you have never heard of, and what he has delivered with The Fighter, as part of a superb three-piece band, is an impressive and varied slice of the genre.  The riff to the opening track, Don’t Dare has an incessant groove to it, and his voice sits very comfortably over the top, while the production includes extra warmth in the vocal harmonies.

Show Me How To Love is a wonderfully polished piece of soulful melodic rock, with a catchy chorus, and the first of many blinding solos over a rolling bass line.  The harmonies in the backing vocals here are glorious and bass and drums combine really well all through the extended outro while Simon lets rip once more.  There is more variety in the stripped back Kingdoms, with the understated vocal delivery, and the shredding lead breaks, before the “white noise” mid-section that sees Simon sizzle the fretboard before the real solo kicks in.  This is a little bit funky in parts, and again showcases the talents of the rhythm section.

Title track, The Fighter, opens with a crunch of a riff before the sparser verses, and the clever pre-chorus with the Geddy Lee like bass lines from Dave Marks, and the whole track is grounded in the solid backing, with the band sounding like a really tight unit, underpinned by the tight and solid drumming of Marty McCloskey.

The blues-rock feel continues with High Stakes, which has a bit of Kenny Wayne Shepherd crossed with classic British rock as in Thunder, and made for a great single release from the record.  The chorus is another beauty, and the more you listen to this, the more complex each segment appears.  There are elements of Richie Kotzen and Steve Vai in the playing, with the solos complex and precise, but never blowing out in length.  Sometimes you would love these to turn into 7 or 8 minute epics….maybe that happens live!

An old school blues rock ballad of the Bad Company / Free mould is up next in Let Me Go, which is nothing special until the searing guitar solo breaks out, as another example of what a sensational player Simon is.   We get a swampy rock riff in 100 Days which rolls along through a bouncy catchy chorus, and sees a lead vocal with much more expression and character, and excels in the instrumental break.  This then piles straight into a 12-bar boogie which oozes class in King Of The Hill with a ripper of a lead break, and an explosive solo section that leaves the jaw utterly dropped!  The tempo goes haywire while Simon delivers his extraordinary virtuoso piece, before it gets back on track with the riotous romp to the close.

I really enjoy the change of tempo in Just Takes Time, which has a belter of an opening riff, with a touch of Kravitz in the sound, and another lead vocal which really suits his range.  The gentler offering that is Trouble has some additional keyboards to give more warmth, but is almost out of place on the record.  The riffs return with the up-tempo rocker Back To You which sees a rock solid crunching guitar through the verse, and more Vai-like breaks through the chorus, and after a contrasting mid-section Simon releases another lightning-fast solo.

The album closes with a respectful cover of Bad Company’s The Stealer which sees Simon offer a pretty good Paul Rodgers lead vocal as well as Paul Kossoff’ unmistakeable guitar lines.  Having listened to The Fighter a dozen or so times in the past couple of weeks, I am unable to stick Simon McBride into any particular pigeon-hole, which is a compliment to his ability to mix and merge different styles – the one thing that is undeniable is that among these generally pretty good songs, there is some astonishing guitar playing, both sensitive and incandescent at times, and I would give a lot to get the chance to see the band live.

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