I am skeptical of supposed “all-star” projects. Let’s be frank. Malcontents booted out of former bands, bored rock stars fishing around for something to do during their downtime, or else craven marketing ploys more akin to some sports “dream team” than an actual band is behind much of the phenomena. There are a handful of acts throughout rock history who rise above that. Those projects sound like the genuine confluence of sympathetic musical artists and, invariably, produce material that truly lives up to its “all-star” ballyhoo. Bad Penny falls into the latter camp and their new single “Push Comes to Shove” makes a convincing case for what it is so.
The new single features Judas Priest’s Rob Halford duetting with powerhouse singer Militia Vox. Bad Penny utilizes a vocal collective rather than a single singer, former Journey lead vocalist Steve Augeri and Queensryche’s front man Todd LaTorre are also involved, and the decision helps deepen the band’s material rather than dilute its identity. Guitarist and songwriter Mike Holtzman is joined by the current rhythm section for Blue Oyster Cult, drummer Jules Radino and bassist Danny Miranda. On paper, it’s an intriguing proposition.
“Push Comes to Shove” realizes that potential. Holtzman’s songwriting favors a cinematic scope and he realizes with such a design comes certain demands. The production is superb. It highlights each instrument for listeners while maintaining spot-on balance between each strand and the vocals are treated with the same care. It builds at the right pace, nothing ever rushed, and has a forceful sound guaranteed to capture listener’s attention. It becomes increasingly clear as the song progresses that this epic style plays to the band’s individual and overall strengths.
The lyrics are, in some respects, typical genre fodder. They demonstrate strong storytelling virtues, however, and are fully formed rather than merely functional. Too many rock acts, modern and otherwise, treat their lyrics as near-afterthoughts or means to an end. Halford and Vox trade off lines with thrilling energy, each investing their all into breathing further life into the words. The effect is often spectacular.
Vox, if anything, has the stronger voice of the two. There’s countless ways to measure her obvious skill but one is her control – Militia Vox measures her power, never pushing too hard on the lyrics, and showing careful attention to the lyrics. She relies a little more on power, however, than Halford. The legendary Judas Priest singer shows more than his voice remains intact. His canny emotive prowess has added pathos to unlikely songs for decades and this impressive skill only seems to deepen with age.
The core unit of Holtzman, Miranda, and Radino are more than equal to the task of supporting such a stellar vocal. Radino and Miranda are an experienced team and provide an unshakable yet lively foundation for the track. Holtzman benefits from such an impressive bottom end, as well, as it provides him the springboard for weaving potent guitar pyrotechnics throughout the track. His solo is outstanding, never gratuitous. Bad Penny is a project still in its early stages but material such as this justifies any rock fan’s faith in their future.