Rock City Angels released one of my favorite albums ever in ‘Young Man’s Blues’ back in 1988. It is 15 songs of rocking bliss that real favourite apart from their contemporaries by mixing so many different influences from southern rock to the blues to some danceable rhythms with Bobby Durango’s (RIP) unmistakable vocals laid over the top. Geffen Records even indulged the band by letting them put 15 songs on their debut album instead of the industry standard 10 at the time. Possible reasons for this vary, but I subscribe to the theory that Geffen did not want this band out there competing with Guns ‘N Roses moving forward at the time. If you do some googling, you can find this theory discussed out on the internet. The band made one video for ‘Deep Inside Your Heart’ and was then put on tour for about the next 4 years even though you would struggle to find the album in the stores at that point. ‘Young Man’s Blues’ received a ton of plays back when it was released by me and continues to add more to that total every year. ‘Southern Vision’ presents the second collection (‘Midnight Confessions’ being the first) of demos the band was working on for Geffen Records for their second album that never got to be recorded for them.
If you are already a fan of the band, it goes without saying that this album is recommended as we get to hear more from Durango and crew, but these songs are also clearly some rough and ready demos as opposed to studio quality recordings. What immediately stands out in the recordings though is the passion this band had for the music, and it is criminal that we will never get the finished versions of these songs. ‘Going Fast Slow’ gets this started with a solid straight ahead hard rocking beat with Durango’s drawl in full effect. The guitar riff is catchy with the solo begging for air guitar participation. Drums welcome us to the boogie of the title track with its bluesy guitar riff finding the band taking elements from ‘Young Man’s Blues’ and pushing the sounds even further. The smooth sounding chorus fits perfectly with a great Durango ad lib kick starting the killer guitar solo. A huge guitar riff rings in ‘Lower East Side’ and features the band at their “heaviest” really with the song recalling an assertive hair band song, but this still drips with passion even if the sonic quality drops a little bit here. Some love and tenderness clearly went into making the quality of these recordings as good as they are, but this one shows its rough edges more than some of the others. ‘I Confess’ doesn’t connect with me as much and could have been one of the tracks that would have missed the second album if I was choosing from the demo collections.
‘All Our Tomorrows’ features a nice guitar riff and provides a catchy midtempo anthem that could have ultimately been pushed as a 3rd or 4th single from the album back in the day. I could have seen them adding some additional instrumentation in the studio to the album version, but this would have been terrific as a live song as is. Acoustic guitar introduces rocker ‘Lost Generation’ where the band indulge their hard rock side on the verses and contrast it with an excellent chorus that sticks long after the album is done playing. This would have likely been a live staple and an album favorite. My favorite part is actually how they use the bridge to transition over to the guitar solo. Changing gears completely, the band slows down with ‘Dark End of the Street’ capturing the spirit of Lynyrd Skynyrd at Muscle Shoals Studio. This track is simply magical in its feel. A finished version could have included some gospel style backing vocals, piano, and/ or horns, but that might actually have caused it to lose this spirit. ‘Saving Grace’ moves back into some rocking blues with some catchy guitar picking and Durango sounding excellent.
Our stretch run begins with ‘Halfway to Heaven’ where the band show they had quality catchy hard rock songs spilling out of the speakers at this point. Give this one a real studio recording and it would have been another standout on the second album. Where a lot of the hair bands of the day lost their footing with the emergence of grunge and alternative, the Rock City Angels might have actually been able to carve out a whole other identity that would have carried them through because of their roots. The quick tempo of ‘Take Me’ sounds better and better with repeated listens, and it definitely would have benefitted from a proper recording. It would have been a deep album track that I would have loved which excels due to its simplicity and fun. ‘The World of Today’ is a slow rocker that has some ballad qualities but carries more musical weight and power. The guitar work is awesome with this one capturing a 70’s rock feeling. Closer ‘New Hope for the Dead’ is ironically titled given the passing of Durango several years ago. This sleazy rocker highlight showcases what a special band this was, and the final shout by Durango at the end causes me to both smile and feel sad as it is the perfect last thing to hear.
Let’s be honest, these types of releases can be obvious cash-ins by people who have the tapes and take advantage of the circumstances. ‘Southern Vision’ sounds excellent given the time period and what was likely available to the band. The label has clearly taken measures to make this a worthwhile release for the fans of the band. Geffen Records did some phenomenal work with artists around this time, but that clearly didn’t happen with these guys for whatever the reason was. The passing of time has only continued to heighten my love for the ‘Young Man’s Blues’ album, and ‘Southern Vision’ provides evidence that the band was writing excellent songs that deserved to be properly done. If you are a fan of the band, this cannot be recommended enough. The world lost a star when Durango left us.
Author: Gerald Stansbury