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Honestly, this band would be languishing in record collections of some 80s headbangers if not for the fact that guitarist/vocalist David "Rock" (oy vey) Feinstein was the cousin of Ronnie James Dio. Don't get me wrong, this is a good band, but you shouldn't break your bank and buy this immediately.
Feinstein, who was previously guitarist for cousin Dio's boogie/blues-rock band Elf, decided in the late 70s to go for the gold on his own, and formed this power trio up in Cortland, New York with Gary Bordonaro on bass, Carl Canedy (yes, the Anthrax/Overkill producer) on drums, and himself on vocals (The other guys join him on the choruses though). The Rods, as he called them, were a rather different beast. They performed raw and uniquely American heavy metal in a strange area between Aerosmith/AC/DC-esque blues-rock/rock'n'roll and Bay Area-style speed metal. They drew on many influences, AC/DC and Motorhead among them, but I can't help thinking there's some New York punk influence (they lived in the state after all)
The band is mostly a vehicle for Feinstein, who solos in a style that seems a melange of hard rock and thrash metal shred. Especially notable is that he's very good at tapping, and guitar players would be advised to get this album for his guitar breaks. He's probably America's first shredder (this was when Bay Area thrash was just getting started, and these guys were on the opposite coast) Occasionally Carl Canedy will get to shine as well, and he's no slouch, playing well enough not to drag down the band and throwing in tasty fills along the way. Gary Bordornaro is nothing extraordinary, but with speed metal, the pressure's mostly on the guitar and drums. Plus he rumbles along nicely.
They probably couldn't bother to get a record contract, as their first record was first released indepedently as "Rock Hard" They got picked up by Arista Records, who chopped up and reordered the album, changing it to a self-titled release as well. The album still starts strong and ends strong, however, but some (not all, some) of the midtempo tracks along the way interrupt the flow.
The album starts with a nice early speed metal track, "Power Lover" It borrows a bit from Deep Purple's "Highway Star", but nonetheless charges on effectively. It's got a catchy chorus and a nice hot guitar break, setting the tone for the rest of the album. Dave's (or "Rock's") vocals are a bit clean for the kind of raunchy rock'n'roll he aims for, but it's not too bad. "Crank It Up" repeats this formula successfully, although the vocals are kind of average. It does start with a cool scream though. "Hungry for Some Love" slows down the pace a bit, and manages to give off some predatory menace. "Music Man" follows, and is a heavier take on AC/DC's tales of rock'n'roll (replace Bon Scott's snotty charisma with Rock's straightforward workhorsemanship, but it's not all bad) It's a heavy midtempo stomper with Feinstein's by-now-trademarked powerhouse guitar solos.
"Woman" enters on a more subdued note, with a bluesy guitar solo and a wah-wah/acoustic rhythm. It turns out as a rather effective ballad, and the bluesy guitar works just as well as Dave's previous shreddy antics. And there's a nice tapping solo in it too, if you miss said shreddy antics. "Nothing Going On In The City" turns the intensity back up immediately, with a ripping speed metal guitar intro and the best vocals this guy's managed so far, neither too melodic for the music or ear-destructively wrong. The solo also kicks, passing by like a freight train of shred guitar lead work, and Feinstein's screams of "NOTHING GOING ON THE CITAAAAAAAAY!" afterwards win this album a few more points in my book. This really disappointed me when I found out, but it's a record label-added cover of a no name Dutch band called White Honey (source: the band's Myspace) In that case, this is probably the best case of executive meddling ever. "Get Ready to Rock 'n' Roll" is a fairly average midtempo boogie, nothing like the previous speedfreak fiesta, but it has heavy guitar riffs, a catchy (if slightly annoying) chorus and a rockin' solo, which is what a good Rods song needs. It ends with some strange vocal echoes, however, which lets it down.
"Ace In The Hole" straddles the line between midtempo rocker and power ballad, but I don't like this so much, due to the strange intro and Feinstein's melodramatic attempts to imitate cousin Ronnie's balladeering style (more suited to Dio's dungeons and dragons lyrics than this song's tale of a card game) The solo is also fairly power-ballad-generic, not as good as most of the previous ones, but he lets loose towards the end. Again according to the band's Myspace, this was a Robert Fleischman (ex-Journey singer) cover added by the label. Why the boys would agree to this is beyond me, but anyway. "Rock Hard" is a another midpaced stomper with a gang chant from the other boys on the chorus ("ROCK HARD!") Dave's lead guitarwork (TM), however, lifts it above the B-grade midpaced stomper somebody like KISS would have made with this title.
"Roll With The Night" is another boogie, this time starting with some generic 50s rock'n'roll riffage (which sounds not a whiff out of place, oddly) Again, catchy chorus and good solo. This guy was not much of a songwriter beyond verse-chorus-verse, but who cares? He kicks ass with that form. "Getting Higher" is a bonus track from the original independent album Rock Hard. It starts again with tasty guitar riffs and drum fills from Carl. Catchy chorus? Check. Dave's lead guitarwork (TM)? Check. "Wings of Fire", the other bonus track, was a B-Side to their cover of "You Keep Me Hangin' On" by the Supremes (That song's on their next album, Wild Dogs) Starts off with a thrashy guitar riff, then some double bass drumming from Carl and speedy bass from Gary. Dave's vocals almost reach "Nothing Going On In The City" level and his tasty guitar fills (along with the drumming) make this song worthwhile.
My conclusion? I wouldn't immediately go out and buy this album, but look around for some samples first. I rate it an 88, cause it's not the best sleazy raunch'n'roll album I've ever heard, but it's better than a lot of albums. It does surprise me that this band never got the attention of a real major, due to their proximity to New York City and their general quality. If Motorhead, AC/DC, and Ted Nugent really (and I mean REALLY) turn your crank, and you can't wait to hear more in this style, knock yourself out and/or raise that 88 to a 90.