Huge-voiced rock singer Myles Kennedy is best known for two things: first, his day-job as Alter Bridge frontman and, second, the extra-curricular work he does with Slash. In neither capacity could you exactly call his approach subdued. Alter Bridge produce a kind of revved-up alt-metal, while Slash continues to plough his bluesy hard-rock furrow. For his debut solo album Kennedy changes down a gear. It's an emotionally raw, stripped-back work that occasionally evokes acoustic Led Zeppelin.
Year of the Tiger is not just introspective, it's also deeply personal. The title is a reference to 1974, the Chinese "year of the tiger" when Kennedy's father died of appendicitis. His condition eventually became fatal because, as a committed Christian Scientist, he wasn't allowed medical intervention. Tracks like "Blind Faith" explore loss, religion and the experiences of growing up in a family beset with grief.
Lyrically then, Year of the Tiger is something of a good old-fashioned concept album. And yet it's not so much the heartfelt lyrics as the arrangements that really define this album. Or at least some. They're not so successful on the "big" songs. The neo-classical stylings of "The Great Beyond", for instance, start off full of promise but ultimately become flabby and overblown.
It's in the smaller songs where the magic really happens. On "Haunted by Design", Kennedy's voice falls to its lower register while the guitar moves from finger-picked loveliness to country-slide licks. "Songbird" mixes a dropped C strum-pattern with a soaring melody. The standout track is "Love Can Only Heal", whose multilayered guitars and understated vocals make for a particularly emotionally-direct form of prog rock.
The overall effect is reminiscent of fellow Washington stater Chris Cornell's final album. Both take a huge rock voice and contrast it with subtler tones. And both LPs work best in their entirety, preferably listened to on vinyl. Of course, there are plenty for whom this kind of folky hard rock is the absolute last word in ghastliness. But if you're a classic rock fan and you enjoy Kennedy's voice, you're unlikely to be disappointed with Year of the Tiger.