Constructed from concrete slabs of sound, with holes cut in it for some lighter stuff, the former Deep Purple bassist’s vocals and bass are in great form as he hints about walking with God.
Label: Frontiers Records
Time: 11 tracks / 52 mins.
Starting off with a riff that could turn into something that Richie Blackmore plays and with his soulful vocals oozing feeling, you get the sense that Hughes is actively playing to the audience that found him in Deep Purple, rather than trying to avoid it – as some musicians do when working a solo career after being in a huge band.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be an either/or situation. Although Hughes gained a reputation for over-vocalising over live solos, the passion in his voice was a strong part of the Purple Mk III line-up’s success. Burn was as good as any album the band made.
The opening track title "Heavy" could be a statement of intent. As well as an up-front and weighty guitar presence, Hughes takes a similar approach with his bass, not least on “Flow.” Both come in concrete slabs big enough to make a skyscraper from (and some intense drumming adds to the weight). Hughes holds nothing back.
“Let it Shine” could be a definitive Hughes track, with the guitar and thick bass combining to push forward through this collection like a steamroller, oblivious to anything that gets in their way. But structurally, there is some soul here that hints of his earlier career and first solo outing.
He must be happy now to play the Purple card, as “Steady” starts with a deliberate Jon Lord soundalike intro and some of the organ solos feel somewhat cut-and-pasted from Lord’s work.
He waits for two-thirds of the album before moving beyond the heavy stuff, but – along with the more generic “Stumble and Go” – these later tracks include some of the disc’s highlights. The fine, bluesy ballad “When I Fall” injects some fragility to the disc (“When I fall again, it will be the end”), followed by the funky “Landmines,” a song about the everyday things that can hurt us. There are few guitar solos on this album, but here is one with a voice box.
Album closer"Long Time Gone" starts with an acoustic approach that showcases Hughes’ distinctive singing style. It’s also one of the hints to his Christian faith, when he sings about walking with God:
“Breakdown the fences
Gotta give what you take
Down by the shoreline divine
Come to your senses
for your own mercy sake...
Footprints left in the sand
I'll leave a light on through my whole lifetime
Now won't you give me your hand”
There are songs here with anger about the past, hope for the future, and plenty of grace for the present.
It has been eight years since his previous solo release, so Hughes has overcome his earlier tendency to put out lots of material and skip the quality control. It feels like he is now on a strong streak (“My fear is gone ... I’m breaking a smile, I’m ready to win/ I’ll stay for a while, I’m steady again,” he sings on “Steady”) and there is plenty here to enjoy.
Hughes’ own performance is excellent here. It is easier to hear, because it is so up-front, but his bass work is solid on the heavier tracks and often fluidly inventive further up the fretboard. Anyone who has seen his phenomenal performance in the super-group version of "Burn" at the Jon Lord tribute concert, will know that his voice still has an amazing range. There are fewer high notes here, but plenty of expressive singing. This collection has power, passion, character and the sense that Hughes is putting everything he has into it.