It has always struck me as a bit insulting that when you consider the roles of women in guitar-driven bands, they are either treated as curiosities, or they are the eye-candy representatives of something other than what you're listening to. The majority of female singers in this kind of music get broken down into two camps; the pop stars who never found their big break, or the classical singers who are used to make metal seem more dignified. There are very few true rock singers who get any attention, which is a shame for more than just the reasons of equality, but also because when they hit the mark, they can be even more effective than bland baritone man #427.
Lunden Reign is a band propelled by two women, singer Nikki Lunden and guitarist Lora G, not that such a fact matters. What's more important is that they are a classic hard rock band in a time when they are sorely needed, and they're making the bold statement of introducing themselves with “American Stranger”, a concept album.
It would be too easy to compare Lunden Reign to a band like Heart, but there's something about the chugging guitar in the opening seconds of “Love In Free Fall” that reminds me of “Barracuda”. There's a nice blend of classic rock with modern sonic touches, and Nikki's vocals are warm and inviting. The song is muscular and engaging, but lacks the bite to really be the powerful opening statement that it needs to be. “The Savage Line” follows, and as the first single, it's the introduction to the band that would have guaranteed success if this kind of rock still had a place on radio. The feeling is a bit more restrained, and the melody and harmonies in the chorus are subtly catchy, leaving you bobbing your head along before you know it.
“28IF (Without, Which Not)” has a title that is a garble of words and letters, but it's another highly enjoyable mix of the new and old, and exactly the kind of song that Lunden Reign needs to be building their reputation on. The mix of rock swagger and catchy hooks is well-balanced, and keeps the music from ever feeling the least bit poppy. There's plenty of grit and bite to the songs, which is due in large part to Nikki's ability to sing rock with all the blood and guts it needs.
“Hush & Whispers” continues the winning streak, with a driving rhythm and big hook that will probably become the band's biggest live anthem, while the title track introduces a cello to give an increased sense of drama to the composition. “Mary” is the album's centerpiece, and longest song, and features some gorgeously crisp guitar tones that cut through the mix and give the riffs the ability to attack.
By the time we get to the end of the record, two things are clear; 1) "American Stranger" is one of those rare albums that could benefit from being longer. At a taut 37 minutes, it's a brisk bit of music that passes by too quickly. I would have liked there to be one more song to flesh things out just a touch. The album feels a bit short to me. 2) However, Lunden Reign has made a damn solid rock album. Sure, I wouldn't mind if they had pumped a bit more pop sheen into some of the melodies to really make the songs impossible to forget, but that doesn't take away from the fact that what they've done is impressive. “American Stranger” is a strong outing for a debut album, and a needed statement to redefine the ways we see women in rock music.
That might be asking a bit too much of an album, but I always enjoy getting to hear reminders that the stereotypes we live with are of our own making. Lunden Reign defy expectations, and they've made a strong case for themselves. “American Stranger” is a fantastic example of modern classic rock.