Stone Padre – El Camino

 Stone Padre – El Camino

Stone Padre – El Camino – Album Review

Well now…this is interesting.  Chances are I spent a large portion of my youth jumping up & down in the mosh pit in front of one of these guys in Stone Padre.  Many of you have heard me defend the early days of Nickelback before…yep, I’ve shocked you with this information before, it’s not new to the regulars here; at one point in time, they were indeed, a killer band.  Long before the popularity.  Long before the fame.  Long before the world would take them out of Canada and permanently onto the worldwide stage.  A time where you could still go and see Nickelback at the shittiest of dive bars still or at amazing venues like The Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver for around twenty bucks & spend nights crushing beer bottles under your feet as the pits raged out of control in front of the band who exploded in popularity.  I used to drive around town looking for a CD from the band, called Curb, on my lunch break, before the album even came out – and the clerks at the A&B Sound on Hastings street would look at me like I was crazy.  “Nickelback?  Never heard of them,” they’d say, a mere couple months or so before all of Vancouver, BC, caught on, and still roughly about a year or so away from the entire world knowing their name.  If you know your history on the band, Ryan Vikedal wasn’t the drummer from the debut record Curb, but he was a pivotal player in their massive success with The State immediately afterwards – and that’s whether or not the rest of the band (Read – Chad) want to acknowledge that or not.  From everything I read & remember, things didn’t end well in that split years later as Kroeger’s ego surged beyond any reasonable level of control while the band went from virtual nobodies to world superstars in what seemed to happen almost overnight, though all of us in Vancouver certainly knew it was coming.  You could feel it in the crowd, every single time.  Chances are, I’ve seen Vikedal play at least five times, back in the day when I was still trying to hold on & hope the band would just somehow freeze in time and stay as awesome as they once were.  Spoiler alert – they did not.  Reading about and listening to Ryan’s new band Stone Padre…I’ll admit, it was kind of awesome to re-live a few of these moments in my head; like…he was probably the drummer when Nickelback opened the show in Vancouver for the infamous Creed cancellation that pretty much sent our city into a riot that night.  Ain’t gonna lie to ya – you’d never get me to a Creed show willingly, no matter who was opening; I was pretty much dragged to the show by my best friend, and I justified it to myself by thinking about the fact that it was Nickelback’s biggest moment in Vancouver so far.  I was there for the band I’d watched grow up on stage right in front of me for the past couple years – this show was going to be the biggest stage they had played on to that point in our hometown…a firm nod that they were on their way to the big-time.  I remember they played a killer set that night…like, they honestly fuckin’ slayed it…and then I remember sitting through the absolutely brutal pain of Sevendust afterwards for what seemed like an eternity, only to find out about forty-five minutes later after they’d both played that Creed wasn’t even coming out on stage.  And then I remember the chairs being ripped out of the stadium and all hell breaking loose.

Anyhow.  Small world I suppose.  Massive shout-out to Ryan though, for making my post high-school and early days at the Vancouver clubs as amazing as they were…even if I can’t quite remember them all; I’m truly nothing but thankful for the contributions he would have certainly made after I finally got to legal age and could see him kicking ass on stage all over our beautiful city on his way to the top.

Though it’s still verifiable Arena-Rock that’s being made in his new project Stone Padre, Ryan is now drumming alongside former American Idol contestant Kendra Chantelle and her amazing vocals & the killer guitar talents of Bad Brad.  The former Nickelbacker also produced their debut record El Camino as well; seems clear, he’s not just heading back into the spotlight, he’s ready to take control of this next chapter of what’s already a career full of massive accomplishments.

Long intro, I know, I know – okay then, let’s do this…

With the buzz of feedback and amplifiers charging up on the opening cut “Boom,” you can hear this crew immediately means business.  You get the killer crunchy guitars and chops from Bad Brad ripping in, Vikedal’s hard-hitting precision drums, quickly joined by the sultry & smooth sound of Kendra’s vocals.  “Boom” is a hybrid tune – and it’ll set the standard for the rest of the record to follow in a similar pattern, weaving between BIG Rock sounds and flashy hooks.  If there’s one thing to be certain about anything that would proclaim to be Arena-Rock, it’s that you know the players are gonna be amazing…otherwise you tend to see that label changed to just ‘Rock’ pretty damn quick once they realize they’re not quite at that level.  Everyone in Stone Padre is built of bulletproof talent…definitely no issues there when it comes to these players & performers…producer too for that matter, you can hear the professionalism in the recording of this album, no doubt about it…it’s designed to be turned up.  You got hooks comin’ at ya from the mic to the music on “Boom” as it rumbles and roars between its energy in the music and has Kendra stepping confidently into the spotlight to lead the way, contrasting the scorching Rock with a sleek approach to her vocals that’s full of melody & tone, switching into soaring and powerful tones at the height of the chorus.  Solid first impression all-around, “Boom” has a killer breakdown & a real deadly & dangerous sound to this whole atmosphere that menaces perfectly.

Continuing to stoke the fires of this record with brilliantly wild & electrifying energy up front, they take it even further with the gripping pace they set on “Wild In The Sheets.”  Make no mistake, each of these talents in Stone Padre are pieces you can get lost right into…the guitars are consistently wicked, the drumming as well – but I’d have to say, on this particular cut, we might have to hand the award to Kendra for stealing the show with her inspired performance on the mic.  This fine lady has an outstanding voice that’s built to Rock with a soulful R&B edge, and at her biggest moments, when the most is demanded of her voice, tone, and energy from the music surrounding her – are the times you’ll find she continually rises to the challenge like it ain’t no thang at all.  Everything works here on this single-worthy cut – the keyboard accents in the melody were a wicked addition to this track as well, adding to the intensity of this barnburner.  I mean, you can hear the vibe really take this crew over on “Wild In The Sheets” and the energy they put back out in return, as if being continually more inspired by each passing moment.  Guitars blaze, drums continually kick out the jams, and Kendra finds the perfect fit on both the verse & chorus.  Killer rhythm & flow to the verse as she sings – and man, when she brings out the fireworks in her biggest moments of the chorus, you realize what a force she is to be reckoned with on the microphone.  She’s got a voice so big I’d be surprised if they even needed to plug the microphone in during a live show – she could easily compete with the loudest of amplifiers out there and fill a stadium with her vocals…which of course, certainly doesn’t hurt in the world of Arena-Rock.

Songs like “Taste” really speak to that hybrid nature of El Camino and the songs they’ve put on this versatile Rock record.  You’ve got massive crossover appeal here…I can literally imagine everyone from Country to Rock & everywhere in between finding their way into this accessible sound.  Loved the breakdown on this cut around the 2:30-ish mark, excellent drums from Ryan there; and I really dig the way “Taste” seems to build with strength as it plays from moment one.  It moves sleekly & slyly in many ways through the moves Kendra makes on the mic, but listen to how they come back and crush it even harder from the breakdown forward, with a highlight solo from Bad Brad ripping it up and Kendra’s stunning vocals scorching to the final moments of this tune.  While I might not have as much of the history on Bad Brad as the rest of these players in Stone Padre, I can tell ya definitively that this dude can certainly hang with the best of the best out there…the dude continually impresses with how much character & charisma he puts into the guitar and he sounds fantastic all the way through “Taste.”  What a chorus on this cut!  I mean…don’t get me wrong, enjoyable from beginning to end for sure, but like, what a vehicle for Kendra to unleash some of her superhuman powers on the mic or what people?  Love the energy and passion they put into “Taste” – they’re right into this tune and you can certainly hear it.

“Jade” is an interesting tune for sure…and one that’s bound to lead them into slightly more controversial territory.  I mentioned they’re a hybrid band right?  Lots of different sounds working as one, correct?  Well.  Some of that’s gonna include a Classic-Rock sound too, which they flex largely throughout “Jade.”  Is it too close to “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin at points?  Probably guilty there.  You can certainly pick it out in the way things are played here, but also sung as well when it comes to the imagery in Kendra’s words and the way she sings them.  Even the hooks of the chorus are like borrowing ideas from “Stairway To Heaven” and adding them into a “Kashmir” sound in many ways…it’s a tough call when it comes to how people will respond to this tune quite honestly.  On the one hand, it’s played to extraordinary perfection, sung amazingly well, and sounds all-out epic; on the other hand, I don’t know if they can escape comparison on this cut…that’s gonna be seriously hard to do for anyone my age or older.  That being said, it’s also that familiarity that can draw us in…there’s no doubt that the hooks of this song are completely killer…my main concern here might be that half the world will be convinced they’re listening to a cover of a song they’ve heard before but can’t quite place because it was likely before their time.  That’s how close “Jade” rides the edge of its influences, whereas songs we’ve experienced like “Taste” and “Wild In The Sheets” provide a bit more identity to Stone Padre and the sound they bring as a band.  I also think there’s an element of respect being shown here for those that have paved the way before them when it comes to that closeness to what music’s history has in common with “Jade” – I mean, it’s not exactly like they’re trying to hide what’s influenced the sound of this song, you know what I’m saying?  It’s all right there for you to hear in the wide-open…so you have to assume they’re more than ready for the comments of comparison that’ll come along with it & simply stoked to celebrate what’s essentially a timeless vibe & sound that they’re rocking on this cut.  Bottom-line to me is, “Jade” is continually engaging, mysterious, and enticing to listen to from beginning to end…it really is epic; it’s got a slower tempo, but a majestic one that sounds massive…definitely a song that’ll keep your attention.

After 1700+ reviews here at sleepingbagstudios, there’s no way I can get away with loving the stuff you know I wouldn’t, so I don’t try & never have, I just keep things honest with you all.  So it’s with a heavy heart that I say, of course, “Wake Up And Dance” isn’t for me personally – but that doesn’t mean it’s not for YOU.  My gut tells me that, even with my natural resistance to ANY song that’s inclined to tell me to dance, this was still a risky move on El Camino for Stone Padre.  “Wake Up And Dance” is decidedly different from the rest of the record and there are definitely moves being made here that seem to reveal more of an attempt at writing a hit than discovering an organic one by default.  We’ve got guitars that head more towards a Van Halen crunch, tone, and energy…and Kendra heads into more noticeably Pop-inspired terrain here…but dangerously close to what you might imagine Tiffany might be rocking today, feel me?  There’s a unmistakable teen-beat vibe that flows through “Wake Up And Dance” – and there’s a good chance that a tune like this will open doors for the band that the other songs can’t, which is a solid checkmark in the win column when it comes to this tune.  That being said…I think that in context of the El Camino record as a whole…chances are whether or not this was a good fit for the lineup is going to be up for debate with the masses out there and I can understand that.  There’s no drop in the quality of the performance or the production, no slippage when it comes to the writing and the execution – it just comes down to whether or not the people out there will readily accept a more pepped-up Pop sound in the middle of an album filled with more Rock-inclined songs surrounding it.

“Push” works that Classic-Rock threshold brilliantly again, with big meaty riffage from good ol’ Bad Brad that sounds like it drifts in & out of the lands between Led Zeppelin and AC/DC at times.  Probably more towards the Zeppelin influence – they’ve definitely had an impact on the direction of the sound of El Camino in a couple tracks from the mid-section of this record.  Again, it’s certainly welcome to the ears, the band of course makes more than enough changes to make this sound feel authentic to themselves, and they continually impress through the skill & passion they bring to each song on the album.  I mean, you just can’t deny musicianship and talent like this at the end of the day, no matter whether or not you feel like “Push” serves their identity as a band or just becomes a really kickass Rock-song to listen to, the level of professionalism and precision in this band is always up to the highest standards and they always sound excellent from performance to production.  It’s flashy & stylistic stuff comin’ atcha, again flexing much crossover appeal to the masses out there, and it’s another storming stadium-sized song they’ve got on “Push” that will no doubt draw people in through the wildness of the instrumentation in everything surrounding the main verses & chorus just as much as the main hooks will.  One thing you can certainly never take away from Stone Padre is how much confidence & skill they play with – you won’t find a step out of place when it comes to these players & how they execute the cuts on El Camino.

I think that infusion of the Blues-Rock vibe into “Lay Me Down” worked extremely well for them.  There’s probably a more mid-tempo pace to this tune as a result overall, but it really allows these players to shine brightly all throughout this track.  I mean, good lord, Kendra is never anything less than mind-blowing with what she brings to the microphone – there’s no doubt in my mind that she somehow finds a way to exceed your expectations yet again with the incredible performance she puts on in “Lay Me Down” – what a powerful voice!  But again, you name it, from Country to Rock to Blues and beyond – there’s a ton of appeal in a cut like “Lay Me Down” – I mean, you could almost argue this to be like, a modern-day Gospel tune in many ways as well, even though it’s got such an electric sound, you’ll hear the similarities in the way they’ve written the melody & flow of the verse.  Soon enough, they shift into something closer to the rhythm & groove of an Aerosmith vibe as they come out of the chorus…err…that is, on their way into the second chorus?  Wait a minute here…how many awesome parts does this one song have?  You get the point – Stone Padre is crushing it all over this tune with a huge performance that is sheer perfection, straight-up.  “Lay Me Down” is just as much fun to listen to as it is remarkable for the skill & songwriting on display – I think this is an extremely strong track on El Camino without question.  Considering they’re so consistent song after song and continually bringing so many dynamics and explosive fireworks into their tunes, that’s actually saying quite a bit – “Lay Me Down” is a killer cut.

I think the biggest surprise to me came through “Spy On U” – I usually have a much harder time with tracks that explore some themes that I’d almost consider to be like, opposite of what you’d find in music somehow…if that makes any sense.  I mean, Stone Padre is going full-on James Bond here…and there’s no doubt that the songwriting is extremely focused, it’s just not really what you’d expect to find, that’s all I’m saying I suppose.  But I gotta say…this freakin’ WORKS.  There’s a large part of me that thinks this cut might actually be the crown jewel of the entire record.  Like for real here…I’m no fool, I know we’ve had talent scouts and management types of all kinds prowl these pages over time…and all I’m saying to you suits’n’ties if you’re out there reading is, get this song into like, a Mission Impossible soundtrack or something.  Do your jobs is what I’m saying!  This song is built and designed so perfectly to fuel an incredible onscreen moment of some sort…whether it’s a killer video, live, animated, Claymation – I do NOT care, just get it DONE…there’s so much that can be accomplished with this particular cut in terms of how far Stone Padre can get exposure to this tune, and of course, therefore the entire record by proxy.  The main low-end riff of the rhythm guitar with the mysterious lead over top of it, is pure sonic JOY as far as I’m concerned…they’ve really created an amazing vibe and a tightly thematic track with “Spy On U” that pulls you in with hard-hitting sounds and mystery haunting the atmosphere.  You could also argue…that there are also themes on display that are certainly relevant for today in terms of both public and personal privacy & politics…Stone Padre takes you deep into the dark on this stylized tune, and to be as clear as I can be, I think this track will completely pay off for them.  Listeners will definitely dig it, Bad Brad has another killer solo as well that’s certainly worth a mention, but it’s the unshakeable focus of the entire band on “Spy On U” that yields its undeniably powerful results.  I’m tellin’ ya Stone Padre – shop this one around out there…”Spy On U” belongs on a summer blockbuster soundtrack of some kind.

Cranking up the guitars and the energy at the beginning of “2 O’clock” – you can hear Stone Padre is set to go off in this tune, which they do in a spectacular blaze of real fired-up Rock and rhythmic flow as they relate a tale of a night or two of spent devoted to debauchery and deviousness.  Sound-wise at first, it kind of reminded me of…hmm…what’s that damn song called…it’s by Local H…”Bound For The Floor,” that’s the one…kind of like that sped up a bit in the guitars of the verse, but totally different once again when all elements are combined.  Especially once they shift into the chorus, which is decidedly different from anything Local H.  I think that Stone Padre really ends up with that advantage on a couple of these tunes where I’ve made more specific comparisons to the sound of the music overall – it’s that difference in style & sound that Kendra often brings to the mic that shifts these more familiar moments into all-new terrain.  Ain’t no doubt, this band has an incredible asset up front on the microphone that will definitely play a gigantic role in establishing the identity of Stone Padre with the people out there.  I love the way Kendra sings, clearly, but she does a fantastic job finding the space and making the most out of her every moment on “2 O’clock.” Absolutely excellent energy in this track all the way through it – Ryan never quits for a second and keeps this beat tight AF with the chopped-up grind of the guitars from Bad Brad…the shift from verse to chorus takes this track to the next-level it deserved – “2 O’clock” is undeniably good fun all-around that celebrates the awesomeness of all-things-Rock.  LISTEN to Bad Brad RIP.  IT.  UP.  Not just an amazing player, but one that really knows how to find uniqueness in his sound selection and choices of what to play that will really stand out as impressive to both the everyday listener and the musician’s-musicians out there…this dude can fire up a fretboard with speed, precision, and smarts…I’d be willing to bet you could see visible smoke comin’ off these strings at times.  HOT!

If you look and listen to this lineup of tunes in its sum total, Stone Padre has barely let the energy drop for a single moment along the way.  Different styles, different sounds, different tempos & all that – but they’ve yet to take us into what’s truly a slower tune or more tenderized & vulnerable sound yet…which they…almost do on “Make Rain” at the very end with a smart decision to transition once more & show us one more dimension of their music in the final track.  Almost makes it a tougher one to judge in a sense, because it’s a gear we’ve yet to really experience from Stone Padre…I certainly wouldn’t discourage them from going after their softer-side like they do in parts of this tune, I think there’s a lot that works really well here.  There are moments for sure where this song seems like it’s more of a struggle somehow or a sound that comes a bit less naturally to their normally amped-up tendencies, like they’re a bit subdued here by comparison to the rest of the tunes, but there are still multiple access points into this last cut on El Camino people will definitely dig.  I think the most positive aspects come from each individual component of the song, verse, chorus, instrumentation, etc. – as one song, including all these ideas as one, it’s harder to say if it’s as much of a fit together, or again, as part of El Camino.  Even Kendra seems to change significantly on this final track, brightening up her vocals perhaps a bit beyond what might sound like a natural fit with the gnarlier bite of the music…almost like what you’d imagine Lisa Loeb would sound like trying to break out of that natural sweetness and Rock right out…which is admittedly, kind of a stranger pairing in contrasting sounds to experience.  For me, it might come down to a case of a song where they’ve potentially out-written themselves here at the end between the verse and the chorus.  Best way I can put it.  I think the natural pull towards the verse in terms of hooks & what we hear as listeners is compelling, powerful, and almost beyond our control; I think the dynamic shifts as they surge into the chorus of this tune, amping-up the atmosphere with big sound, but somehow nearly detaching somewhat from the humble grip the captivating verse holds on ya.  I could be wrong and often am – I’m just tellin’ ya what I’m hearing…like I said, plenty of redemption for this final cut in the fact that it’s still played & performed exceptionally well and that quality remains.

El Camino is a certifiably wild ride and hybrid experience in Rock…terrifically tight band, impeccable execution, full of competent & extremely capable musicians that really go after their moment together on this record in a genuinely unified way.  They really sound like they belong with each other in Stone Padre – and it’s that lock-step movement the display in their performances & rock-solid commitment they share as a band together that creates such a compelling experience to listen to all-around.

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