TAVYRN – Fire in the Sky (Self-Released)Friday, 28th October 2022
Thanks to some friends, a few years ago I was made aware of a hidden gem of an ’80s rock ’n’ roll band called Nightrider. The band formed in 1980 in Nashua, N.H., and wrote and recorded a collection of hard-driving rock songs that combined the down ’n’ dirty swagger of Motorhead and Saxon with that big ’80s arena rock sound, largely due to the band’s four-part vocal harmonies.
I was fortunate to see the band a couple of times before the live lineup dissolved when drummer Brent Enman moved away to Colorado. But before that happened, the band had written three new songs and re-recorded a bunch of songs from their back catalog and released Rock Machine in July of 2019. Although live shows had been shelved for the time being with Enman’s move, the possibility of future releases remained, as the band still had songs that hadn’t been recorded, but it wasn’t long before 2020 arrived, and with it a pandemic that would upend life as we knew it.
Nightrider lead vocalist, guitarist and primary songwriter Steve Labrecque used the opportunity to hunker down in his home studio, dubbed the Tips Up Tavern, and got to work on his debut solo album Fire in the Sky. Taking inspiration from his studio, while also having the project function as a “virtual tavern” in which Labrecque plans to welcome in guest musicians to take part, he named the project TAVYRN and decided to look inward in an attempt to make sense of all the chaos and confusion that was taking place outside across the country.
The bio on TAVYRN’s Bandcamp page says the songs initially sounded like Nightrider, but as Labrecque let the songs breathe and develop, and as he delved further into learning how to properly set up a studio and record, he started to find what would become TAVYRN, which is more progressive than Nightrider and features a wider palette of sounds, including synths, sequencers, a mandolin, and what sounds like an organ on “Step into the Fire.”
Although Labrecque spreads his musical wings with TAVYRN, he kicks the album off with an energetic 1-2 punch of “Prodigal Son,” a mid-paced rocker with driving, in-your-face riffs and grooving bass that would have fit comfortably on Rock Machine but with a haunting, melodic guitar line that reminds this scribe of King’s X, and the title track, in which Labrecque is a regular riff machine and sounds as if he’s summoning his inner James Hetfield.
It’s not until the third song on the album, “Prisoner of the Dark,” in which things start to slow down and stretch out. It opens with an eerie synth melody, which is eventually joined by some sullen bass lines. The song crawls along at mid-tempo until the chorus hits about halfway through and immediately brings me back to the early days of Nightrider and those ultra-melodic sing-along choruses. However, this time around Labrecque isn’t singing about “Rockin’ Down the Night,” but rather getting deeper and more introspective with lyrics such as: “Prisoner of the dark/Anger in my soul/Let me stay with you awhile/Let me lose control/Searching for a sign/Wandering alone/I put before you all my dreams/Let the sunrise make me whole.” While this is the longest song on the album at just over 7 minutes, it may also be the most raw-sounding and is darker than the two songs that came before it.
Shifting gears, Labrecque follows up the more brooding “Prisoner” with an up-tempo, catchy song about a raven-haired woman in a red dress known as “Lady Moonshine,” followed by the closest thing to a ballad on the album, “Castle of Dreams,” which calls to mind Extreme or Queensryche’s “Silent Lucidity.” Another very melodic song, this time bolstered by some keys/strings orchestration in the background.
While all of the music on Fire in the Sky was written, recorded and produced by Labrecque, there was a collaborative spirit present throughout the project, as he welcomed in fellow Nightrider bandmate bassist Bert Plante on “Rising Sons” and “Together We Will Fly,” which also features Nightrider guitarist Ken Merrifield. And though he’s not featured on the album, Labrecque says he couldn’t have made it without all the advice and guidance from Enman, who has experience with a home studio as he has written, recorded and produced several of his own solo projects.
Labrecque says he began writing simple songs when he was 13, and after more than 40 years together with three of his best friends and brothers in Nightrider, it’s safe to say his voice is far from falling silent. If TAVYRN is any indication, Labrecque still has much to say. He describes a life not writing and recording music as “a life without taste and smell, a life suffering even to breathe. It is who I am and who I have always been.”
TAVYRN is the latest expression of a free spirit, unhindered by boundaries and labels, tapping into that ever-present creative nature and crafting something true and authentic that is well worth your time to seek out, take in and digest, especially if you don’t mind thinking and reflecting while you listen. As Labrecque says, the TAVYRN is open, so come in and stay a while!