It is no coincidence that these days, one hears a great deal of 1980s rock in the hotels and casinos of Atlantic City and Las Vegas. Those businesses are trying to create a fun, lively, festive type of atmosphere, and a lot of 1980s rock was both incredibly fun and incredibility infectious. From Pat Benatar to the Romantics to Mötley Crüe to Joan Jett to Bruce “The Boss” Springsteen, 1980s rockers really knew how to bring on the hooks. And an 1980s-like sprit of infectious prevails on the Kris Heaton Band’s Stand Up.
Heaton, a veteran rocker from Connecticut, has recorded as the leader of the Kris Heaton Blues Band, which favors a gutsy blues-rock approach along the lines of George Thorogood & the Destroyers (as in “Bad to the Bone” and “I Drink Alone”), Pat Travers and the late Stevie Ray Vaughan. But the music on Stand Up is more like a combination of Springsteen and John Mellencamp by way of Huey Lewis & the News; this 2016 release favors melodic, 1980s-like rock & roll with strong Americana leanings at times. And when Heaton passionately tears into “Shake It Up,” “Call Me,” “Win,” “Midnight Romeo” or the title track, he delivers the sort of big, infectious, insistent hooks that 1980s rock was known for. The art of the hook is alive and well on “The Show” and “Crazy” as well as “Stop Bringing Me Down,” “Lonely Woman” and “Family.”
Heaton favors a Euro-rock type of sound on “Heart of Stone,” but more often, the East Coast rocker draws on the Americana spirit of Springsteen and Mellencamp. Both The Boss and Mellencamp emerged in the 1970s and continued to record great albums in the 1980s, and one of the things both of them were great at during those decades was vivid, effective storytelling. Springsteen and Mellencamp really brought the Americans described in their songs to life, and Heaton has no problem doing that on “Joe” or “Fallen Hero.” While “Joe” fondly remembers a friend who is sorely missed, “Fallen Hero” pays homage to a young veteran who died in combat. “Fallen Hero” describes the veteran’s family and the events leading up to the end of his life, and the way Heaton describes the veteran so vividly in his song is right out of the Springsteen/Mellencamp school of 1970s and 1980s storytelling. Anyone who has spent a great deal of time savoring The Boss’’ Born in the U.S.A. album of 1984 or Mellencamp’s American Fool album of 1982 will appreciate the storytelling abilities that Heaton brings to “Joe” and “Fallen Hero.”
Overall, this is an album with a positive, optimistic outlook. Certainly, a spirit of optimism asserts itself on “Stop Bringing Me Down,” “Win” and the title track; a recurring theme on this album, in fact, is that despite life’s challenges, one should never give in to despair. And on “Stop Bringing Me Down,” Heaton’s message is that while someone else might insist on wallowing in negativity, he refuses to do so.
It is important to be aware of the different types of albums that are available in Heaton’s catalogue. Heaton’s blues-rock side can be heard on Kris Heaton Blues Band albums that include She Ain’t Right, Law of the Jungle and Runaway Train, all of which epitomize the George Thorogood & the Destroyers/Stevie Ray Vaughan-influenced side of his artistry. But Stand Up is a different type of album. This release, unlike Law of the Jungle or She Ain’t Right, is not blues-rock per se. But memorable tracks such as “Fallen Hero,” “Joe,” “Family” and “Call Me” are certainly relevant to roots rock, and there is not a dull moment on this pleasingly consistent effort.
Stand Up is a winner.
Kris Heaton Band
Review by Alex Henderson
4 stars out of 5