Singer/guitarist Stephen Dale Petit’s 2020 Visions is throwback rock and roll, with nods to blues and glam rock. The album is all over the place, not in a disorganized way, but rather like an epic drive where you’re constantly changing the radio station and never finding a bad song. Petit and his band are fluent in many styles and toggle through them, often within a single tune, resulting in complex tracks that still manage to make your heart race and your head bang.
Petit is American-born but a fixture of the British blues rock scene, having played with Rolling Stones past and present Mick Taylor and Ronnie Wood. You might expect someone with that kind of pedigree to have a little bit more of a laid-back vibe, but 2020 Visions, Petit’s sixth album, while never going full-on into metal, flirts hard with it. Petit might love the Stones, but he’s not trying to recreate their sound. Perhaps their spirit, but definitely not their sound.
“Soul of a Man” is one of the album’s strongest tracks. Built upon a slow-but-heavy drum groove and a stinging Paul Jones harmonica riff, Petit manages to pull the song in two directions simultaneously, his distorted slide guitar pure modern blues and his vocals giving the song a punk rock snarl. But, as if that wasn’t enough, Shemekia Copeland, a truly talented Americana singer (seriously; go check her out), joins him for the chorus, which gives the tune a glammy sing-song quality, reminiscent of Mötley Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home” or Guns N’ Roses’ “Paradise City.” Somehow “Soul of a Man” is heavier, though, but also more rooted in the blues. Petit and his band are juggling a lot, keeping all of the balls in the air, managing to make it look easy.
“Tinderbox” is the album’s fastest song. Featuring a pounding rhythm, Petit’s vocals are pure anger, and his guitar is all over the track. Where the rest of the album is more balanced, “Tinderbox” feels like it’s mostly made up of Petit’s guitar, with vocals and some drums backing things up from a safe distance. But one has the sense it wouldn’t be a substantially different song with just Petit’s feedback laden guitar and barking vocals.
Not all of 2020 Visions‘ is heavy, though. “The Ending of the End” is a slow blues that morphs into a ballad. Petit’s playing is straight-forward but also beautiful, bluesy bends resolving into jazzy runs, his tone having the impact of an intravenous shot of espresso. While it’s a strong Petit performance, his voice sounding both vulnerable and bratty, it’s hard to not be hypnotized by his gorgeous soloing. Guitarists can hide behind a lot in a fast song, but in a slower one, like this one, Petit is exposed and never blinks, delivering some emotional soloing.
The album’s aggression is interesting, especially in Petit’s vocals. Blues and blues rock often repress explicit anger, or at least stash it away into guitar solos. But 2020 Visions doesn’t feel hopelessly bilious. The balance is possible because of the variety in the music; there are lots of shades of gray that temper Petit’s more intense moments, if not sanding off all of the dark, jagged edges, then certainly shining them so they catch the light. It also helps that he’s such a great singer and guitarist, which adds a tint of exhilaration to the entire album.
The Review: 8.5/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– The Ending of the End
– Makin’ It
– Soul of a Man
The Big Hit
– Soul of a Man
Review by Steven Ovadia