Monday, December 8, 2014

A Look Back at Rebel Meets Rebel

Consisting of country legend David Allan Coe alongside the instrumentalists from Pantera, Rebel Meets Rebel is an example of a project that should've gotten more attention from its creators as well as from its fans. Recorded shortly after the Reinventing the Steel sessions and seemingly forgotten until its 2006 release, their sole studio album is one of the rare examples I've seen of a band attempting to combine heavy metal with old school country music. It may not be a timeless masterpiece but it does show a group of musicians bringing the best out of one another in a promising environment.

If there's one thing I've noticed about the guys in Pantera, it's that they've always catered their sound to whoever was singing for them. They played hair metal with original frontman Terry Glaze, their famous run with Phil Anselmo saw influences from sludge and hardcore overtake their sound, and even the song they recorded with Rob Halford on the mic just sounds more like a Fight outtake with Dimebag Darrell's guitar tone than anything off of Vulgar Display of Power. While these chameleon-like tendencies may have led some to call their integrity into question, it seems to especially work in their favor when this collaboration is concerned.

Coe may have only provided lyrics and vocals to the Abbott brothers' musical compositions but his presence definitely leads to the musicians approaching their instruments from different angles while still keeping true to their core elements. Dimebag's guitar leads often have a noticeable twang, his riffs have a bright tone even when they provide their signature crunch, Rex's Brown bass stands out a little more than before, Vinnie Paul trades his heavy double bass in for more traditional drum beats, and flourishes of piano, fiddle, and acoustic guitar lend the songs a sense of credibility that you don't see as much in your typical southern metal band. As expected, Coe's vocals definitely aren't a source of technical prowess in their old age but his unwavering howl does give the songs a sense of structure that they wouldn't have had under the command of Anselmo's often directionless ranting.

Speaking of structure, the songwriting on this album is also at a different level than the band members' past projects and successfully combines their natural heaviness with a sense of accessibility. The album starts off on its fastest note as "Nothin' to Lose" features some great guitar/vocal contrasts set to an unwavering drum beat, the title track and "One Night Stands" are rock romps in the vein of Motorhead and ZZ Top with the former's trade-offs between Coe and Dimebag emulating "Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers," songs like "Cowboys Do More Dope" and "Get Outta My Life" bring in mid-tempo attitudes, and you'll find even slower tempos and more melodic flourishes on "Heart Worn Highway" and "Arizona Rivers." Unfortunately, the album does dip a bit in quality after the tribal stomp of "Cherokee Cry" with "N.Y.C. Streets" in particular sounding like it was put together at the last minute.

Sometimes I wonder what things would be like now if Rebel Meets Rebel had been the group on tour in 2004 instead of Damageplan. This album may have a couple fillers towards the end, but it is a really fun listen that never sounds too forced and leaves a lot of room for potential that was sadly never realized. It would've been great to see these guys get more comfortable with each other on further installments and perhaps even take deeper dives into traditional country and blues structures. I get the feeling that it'd be a lot less awkward than the southern tripe that Vinnie Paul has been coasting on with Hellyeah...

R.I.P. Dimebag.

"Nothin' to Lose"
"Rebel Meets Rebel"
"Cowboys Do More Dope"
"One Night Stands"
"Cherokee Cry"

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