RON KEEL – Metal Cowboy

Anyone remember Keel? If not, Keel were a Hard Rock / Arena Rock band formed by Ron Keel, a singer that debuted on vinyl with a band called Steeler, a band that featured a certain guitarist called Yngwie Malmsteen back in 1983 and who also auditioned the singer spot for Black Sabbath back in 1984, when Steeler had called it quits. The band Keel were active from 1984 to 1989 when they released five albums and sold somewhere around 2 million copies of those. Now 2 million copies might sound a lot but in the 80’s under a five-year period it’s next to nothing. Keel toured a lot, opening up for bands like Kiss and Dio but their big break never came even though they got pretty close with their 1986 album The Final Frontier. And there was a reason for that. Keel just weren’t that good and Ron himself was a singer with a limited range. Not that that ever stopped Vince Neil, though. The band did get together for the release of VI: Back In Action in 1998, an album that consisted mostly of old unreleased songs and did pretty much nothing. So goodbye once more.

Since the split in 1989, Ron worked on different projects such as Fair Game where he fronted four female musicians, a Hard Rock/Country outfit called IronHorse and collaborated with Japanese guitarist Akihito Kinoshita in a project called Saber Tiger before he embarked on a solo career. Keel did reunite once more, back in 2010, with the album Streets Of Rock & Roll, an album I haven’t heard a note of and sales wise, it didn’t exactly set the world on fire. However, I did got to see them live on a mini festival in Stockholm around that time and since I was never a fan at all I had no hopes for anything great but to my surprise, they were really good. In 2014, Ron released his latest album Metal Cowboy, an album I didn’t even know existed until now. So why review a four-year old one might ask. Well, the version I have here is a rerelease – remixed, remastered with a couple of new tracks on it. Not knowing what to expect musically, the album title is probably a good hint of what’s to come.

Opener and single “My Bad” starts out with a twang, going all swamp-blues Country but it soon turns into a real arena rocker albeit with a big chunk of Southern Rock and Country waved in. It’s a pretty heavy tune with a distinct groove and a refrain with lots of hooks. It’s a very good tune that caught me off guard a bit. I didn’t expect it to be this good and sport so much hit-potential. “The Last Ride” comes on faster and heavier, like old Keel but there’s still a Country vibe to it and it do contain a banjo. It’s a pretty intense rocker with a very melodic solo and a main melody that really hits home. Yes, I quite like this one too. “Just Like Tennessee” is a bona fide power ballad taken straight out of 1990. But on top of that the tune holds a major Country vibe and even though Country ballads have never been my horse ride I really dig the mix here. The whole tune is catchiness deluxe albeit a bit sugary. I wouldn’t be surprised if this turned out a hit – if released as a single, that is.

How about a clean rocker then? You know, a song that makes you wanna put your fist in the air and rock out? Well, we get one of those in “Dead Man Rockin'”. Ok, so it starts out acoustically in a Country way but it soon turns into a full-blown 80’s arena rocker. So far, so good but the thing is, the song isn’t that special at all – just like most of Keel’s records were back when. Ok, but pretty standard. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out how a song with a title like “What Would Skynyrd Do” sounds like. Yes, it’s pretty much a Southern Rock tune but to spice it up, Keel has added a pretty large quantity of Arena Rock, some swamp Blues, a Country vibe and a honk piano. It’s groovy, raw, meaty and could put the dullest person into a party mood. I love this. “Singers, Hookers & Thieves” is a Country ballad, slow and groovy but still with a chunk of 80’s power balladry. The tune also features Frank Hannon of Tesla on guitar. I dig this even though style wise it’s not really in my wheel house.

In for some Melodic Rock? You know the stuff that was high in the charts and had heavy rotation on MTV in the late 80’s? Well, here’s “Wild Forever” at your service. This is Melodic Rock at its fullest, catchy with a huge chorus and so many Pop hooks I lost count halfway through. It’s very, very radio friendly with a major hit-potential. Great stuff. Ron stays on the Arena Rock path with “The Cowboy Road” but the Country vibes are all over this track. The song speeds up towards the end and even gets pretty heavy making the song rowdy and rough. A good hard rock track. “When Love Goes Down” starts out with a mid 80’s blipping synth but soon some raunchy Rock guitars comes in and sound wise this track sounds like Melodic / Arena Rock tune with both its feet in 1991. It sports a good punch, a memorable main melody and a very catchy refrain. Again, I really like this.

“Evil, Wicked, Mean & Nasty” is a heavy Hard Rock stomper in a mid tempo, headbanging friendly with a punch and a nice touch of early 90’s melodic Hard Rock but there’s also a Country n Western feel there that’s brought along by the harmonica. It sounds pretty standard to me but it’s also very catchy. It’s good but it doesn’t floor me. “Long Gone Bad” is a fast, straight forward hard rocker that would be only that if it wasn’t for the Country n Western acoustic guitar that’s squeezed into the song. Still, it’s really nothing special and passes by pretty much unnoticed. “Three Chord Drinkin’ Song” is a stripped bar song, an acoustically laden Pop tune with a bunch Country influenced guitars and a Southern Rock vibe. When I first heard it I came to think about “Love For Sale” that ended Bon Jovi’s New Jersey album. It’s pretty groovy and laid back but just like the Bon Jovi track, it’s more fun for the band than for the fans, I guess. Ok tune.

As a closer we get the radio edit of “My Bad”, a completely unnecessary thing that contributes with exactly nothing. I don’t even hear any difference between the original track and this. I must say this album was a lot better than I thought it would be. As a non Keel-fan, I wasn’t exactly flabbergasted to hear a Country/Metal record from their frontman but the thing is, R.K. has managed to come up with a whole bunch of really good tunes here, tunes that for the most goes in his old Hard Rock / Arena Rock footprints but also with equally as much Country / Southern Rock and twists of Pop and Melodic Rock. Also, I have always questioned Keel’s ability as a singer but as he has grown older, his voice have changed for the better and today it’s edgier and rawer and it sounds a lot more stable than back when. I can’t say I find this album exceptional by any means and the production could be more dynamic and bigger. But it’s a good album and you can do a lot worse than that.

6/10

Tracklist:

1. My Bad
2. The Last Ride
3. Just Like Tennessee
4. Dead Man Rockin’
5. What Would Skynyrd Do
6. Singers Hookers & Thieves
7. Wild Forever
8. The Cowboy Road
9. When Love Goes Down
10. Evil Wicked Mean & Nasty
11. Long Gone Bad
12. Three Chord Drinkin’ Song (Live in Studio)
13. My Bad (Radio Version)

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