Collabs fuel celebration of Hagar’s longtime career

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First Posted: 9/23/2013

Albums like these are a hit-or-miss proposition; the cover-heavy, famous friend tagalong collaborations. Such attempts have yielded monstrous victories, like Johnny Cash’s “American” series, or abysmal misfires like the recent Metallica/Lou Reed “Lulu” trainwreck. Vocal goliath Sammy Hagar tries his hand at this concept with “Sammy Hagar & Friends,” an album that brings along for the ride bandmates like Hagar’s Chickenfoot pals drummer Chad Smith and Michael Anthony (Hagar’s co-Van Halen holdover), along with notable buddies like Kid Rock and Journey’s Neal Schon. The result is pleasing – no patchwork quilt of assembled one-offs here; it’s a classic Sammy Hagar buckshot through and through.

Perhaps most noticeable is the continued staying power of Hagar’s bombastic, upper-register vocals. At the age of 65, Hagar continues to defy Father Time with his soul-phrased, agitated vocal candor. This is evident on tracks like “Not Going Down,” a bluesy, idle-drive rocker featuring bassist Bill Church and drummer Denny Carmassi of Hagar’s seminal early 1970’s hard rock act, Montrose. Covers like Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus” are given a playful roadhouse treatment, the cut sounding like a lost chicken-greased outtake from ZZ Top’s “Tres Hombres” album, Schon’s strings sizzling a bubbling blues.

“Knockdown Dragout” is probably the most typical Hagar hard-partying, tequila-torrent rock ‘n roll scrape. Hagar and Kid Rock trade lead vocals amid a rhythmic blowout reminiscent of Hagar’s 1997 radio hit, “Little White Lie.” The only real clinker of the bunch may be a cover of Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville,” with Toby Keith on shared lead vocal – the track’s lackluster waft a bit too karaoke to properly conform to Hagar’s dynamic personality. A lower-key cut that does work is “All We Need Is An Island,” co-written by Heart’s Nancy Wilson, with a world-music flair by way of Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart’s percussion and Tahitian Ukulele seasoned salt.

A lighthearted, yet musically potent powerhouse celebration of Hagar’s 40 years in music, this collaboration smacks every inch of Hagar’s fun-in-the-sun, untroubled charisma, and proves the Red Rocker hasn’t lost a single shade of his musical color.

– Mark Uricheck, Weekender Correspondent