Album Review : VAMBO – VAMBO DeLuxe

Review by Peter Coates –

Released 06/11/20

The debut album from London-based classic rock band Vambo was first released in October 2019, and has been treated to a re-release with some extra tracks, including an acoustic version of one song, and a live version of one of hard rock’s classics, and is a perfect introduction to yet another exciting new band from the UK, whose material is very much grounded in the great British classic rock sounds of the 1970s and early 1980s, with their own individual take on the genre.

The four members of the band all have pretty diverse musical backgrounds and tastes, and this certainly shows through in the breadth of musical styles evident in the tracks on this record – without ever suggesting that they are anything other than an all-out classic rock band.  The debut album is steeped in sharp musical intelligence and finds the band in full creative tilt delivering hard-hitting, re-tooled classic rock with a contemporary edge.   

It takes a pretty ballsy decision for a young band trying to make their way in the rock world to cover one of the absolute classic songs, from one of the greatest British rock bands, sung by one of the best ever rock vocalists – but Vambo took on Deep Purple’s Burn and have absolutely nailed it as a live track, with Jack Stiles delivering a powerhouse rendition of the song, and the band holding their own even without the keyboards!

There is a real synergy between the crisp crushing riffs of Pete Lance, and the soulful blues-rock voice of Jack Stiles, with an ever-so slightly funky feel – a la Thunder, Electric Boys or the Dan Reed Network – and this comes out in the opening two tracks Now You See Me and Why Why Why – with Stiles able to deliver a slightly discordant melody over the backing, and some epic backing harmonies in the second track in particular.

The guitar sound is rooted in old-school Sabbath, Judas Priest and John Sykes-era Thin Lizzy, and while the studio tracks may have the benefit of some over-dubs and extra guitar layers, the live version of Burn demonstrates that Pete is able to deliver most of the guitars without too many tricks!  There is some superb tight drumming here from Steve Price behind the kit as well, as he and James Scott on the bass hold down the backing in the most solid fashion.

It is clear that Jack Stiles and his voice has a major influence on the overall sound of the band, and he works so well with Pete on the guitar in their combinations.  Cry Woman was co-written with classic pop session guitarist Steve Lauri, and is one of the more commercial tracks on the record, with great melodies in the pre-chorus, and big harmonies in the chorus proper, with some tasty lead guitar work through the solo.

A dark malevolent feel to the opening riff and piercing vocals of We’re Not The Same leads into a crushing riff beneath the chorus, and has a few progressive-rock features, with some clever structures that accentuate the difference of this track to the rest of the album – but it remains very much in line with sound of the band.  Stiles delivers a virtuoso performance in the range of his vocals, and there are a couple of elements in the song which are truly mesmerising.

A searing guitar solo opens up the big rock ballad Dancing With The Devil, which is an absolute belter of a power-rock anthem that harks back to those classic AOR bands like Streets or White Sister, with some wonderful piano work and a searingly pure guitar solo, and some really effective backing harmonies behind the chorus melody, that is reminiscent of one of my favourite UK rock bands in Ten – hard rock with a progressive flair.

Frenetic drums and a flashing riff open up the solid mid-tempo rocker World of Misery, and this chugs along nicely, again with Lance and Stiles sharing the melody between voice and guitar, before a cheeky key-change and a flashy little solo bring a touch of lightness into the slightly menacing sound of the main songline. 

Current favourite track on the album is the dirty groove of Down Little Mama, driven along by the pulsating riff, very Scorpions-like, and the pounding drums, and there is space for Lance to let himself go in the solo without much clutter behind him.  This merges nicely into the steady pace of the “Vambo anthem’ Running In Circles, with a big intro, huge orchestration, and a monstrous guitar solo towards the end which just keeps going through the final chorus to the close, with a neat touch in the outro.  

An absolute cracker of a melodic hard rocker thunders along in Camouflage, which would have been equally at home on a Deep Purple Mark III or IV release, or a later Whitesnake album, before the eponymous Vambo Roolz (the band name was taken from a 1976 Mud track – Vambo Rools) rumbles along, with the Led Zep meets Audioslave vibe in the backing, the incessant riff, and the meandering guitar harmonies over the top, while Jack and the backing vocals provide the perfect counterpoint to the track.

Fast Car is a perfect track to end the album proper on, which has a bit of a Highway Star feel in the mix, and some impressive full-throttle vocals, along with a tearer of a solo.

If you got revved up by that one, then the first of the extra track, Paradise is a perfect follow-up to it, fast and furious, with another sterling display on the drums, and some great interplay between them and the guitars through the mid-section and the solo.  Another catchy melody and hook-laden riff is the basis of Mistaken Identity, with a bit of a White Lion sound in the pre-chorus that really sits well in the overall Vambo sound.  Total Jeopardy features all those elements that seem to be Vambo hallmarks, with some challenging vocal lines, piledriver drums, that rock-solid bass, and guitars alternating between crushing riffs and searing licks.

The studio package closes out with a haunting acoustic version of the Dancing With The Devil and simply exaggerates the quality of the vocal harmonies through the chorus, over a pretty simple 6 and 12-string guitar backing.

Last but not least, the version of Burn taken from a live show (remember them kids!) is an honest rendition of one of the all-time greats, and the band does it a good degree of justice – the snare-drum work is on-point, the guitar sound perfect, and Jack provides his own power to the lead vocal line, which is one of the hardest to replicate, and the mid-section vocals are just electrifying.  This has been in the band’s live set from day one, and is a homage to one of the main influences of the band.  








Photo credit: Rob Blackham