A version of this review appears in Friday’s Weekend Life section of The Oklahoman.
Sammy Hagar “Sammy Hagar & Friends” (Frontiers Records)
A colorful array of guest talents, including Oklahoma country hitmaker Toby Keith, Sooner State-born Journey guitarist Neal Schon and Heart belter Nancy Wilson, brighten up “Sammy Hagar & Friends,” the Red Rocker’s first collaborations album.
But former Oklahomans Ronnie Dunn and Ray Wylie Hubbard prove the most adept at souping up the “I Can’t Drive 55” singer’s first solo effort since 2008’s “Cosmic Universal Fashion.” The ex-Tulsan and Soper native co-wrote the high-octane country-rocker “Bad On Fords and Chevrolets,” which pits Hagar’s raspy vocals against Dunn’s honky-tonk tenor.
Due out Tuesday, “Sammy Hagar & Friends” mixes new originals like that bad-boy ballad with well-known cover tunes, and after more then 40 years in the music business, the former Van Halen frontman has plenty of high-profile pals willing to rock with him, including current and former bandmates Schon (HSAS); Michael Anthony (ex-Van Halen and Chickenfoot); Joe Satriani and Chad Smith (Chickenfoot); Bill Church and Denny Carmassi (Montrose); and Vic Johnson (Sammy Hagar and The Waboritas).
Hagar, 65, penned the album opener, “Winding Down,” a bluesy social anthem with Grammy winner Taj Mahal driving home the message that the Earth’s gone a little off the rails as they’re running out of time on it. The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer recruits Kid Rock to help him incite the masses with the lead-off single, the rock rallying cry “Knockdown Dragout,” with Satriani’s smoking solo fanning the flames. Wilson doesn’t need her legendary powerhouse wail for the laidback island-breezy duet “All We Need Is an Island,” while Hagar’s son Aaron is a fitting backing vocalist to the Zydeco-flavored ditty “Father Sun.”
When it comes to covers, Hagar and his buddy Keith take a smooth and relaxed jaunt to Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville,” while the Red Rocker gives Bob Seger’s “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” a bouncy solo spin.
Schon, the newest member of the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame, burns it up on a live in-studio take of Don Nix’s “Going Down,” but even his sizzling axe work can’t salvage a wrongheaded gospel-choir-augmented rendition of Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus,” mostly because Hagar doesn’t have a sufficiently ominous voice or persona to convey the song’s darker undertones.
Hey, Hagar is all about the rock, and for much of his new album, he and his friends do it well.