April 24th, 2020 the Ron Keel Band released the album South X South Dakota. This album was years in the making, without the band even knowing it. These were the songs that were early influences for the members of the band and they jammed to them in the recording studio while recording their last album, “Fight Like A Band.” Tapes were rolling the whole time, and listening back, the concept for this record was born.
Some of these songs are very true to the original, while others have definitely been Keeled up for this release. Ron probably describes it best. “Toughness meets twang as Metal and Country collide on sacred southern ground.”
Let’s check out the tracks:
In the end, this is a collection of songs that were played over, providing the soundtrack to the childhoods of many of us across the country – from my new home town in Ocala, Florida to my old home town in LeSueur, Minnesota, and from Atlanta, Georgia to Sacramento, California. RKB put together an outstanding collection of classics and performs them in glorious fashion. If you’re a Southern rock and/or country fan, and like your music on the grittier side, you need this record.
- A fantastically recognizable harmonica jam opens the album, as Ron and the boys launch into a hard-hitting Southern-rock track that is a perfect fit for RKB’s country/metal sound. “Train Train” is one of my personal favorite tracks to sing, and these guys do it total justice, with excellent slide-guitar work and a strong vocal performance. The spirit of the original Blackfoot release is alive and well in this new rendition.
- The members of .38 Special must be very proud of the cover on this record of “Rockin’ Into The Night.” Ron & company kept this one very true. Fans of the 1980 hit will be cranking this one up and singing along.
- Teaming up with vocal legend Jasmine Cain, “Don’t Misunderstand Me” is a fantastic duet, giving more than a tip of the hat to the original by the Rossington-Collins Band. Ron’s metal voice and Jasmine’s rasp combine to give us a track that could be a hit on its own, independent of the storied history of the song (and the band) that rose from the ashes of tragedy.
- Things slow down a bit with the first single to be released from this record. “Red, White & Blue,” happens to be Ron’s all-time favorite Skynyrd tune and his affinity for the song is evident. The emotion in the lyrics come through on this cover as if Ron wrote the song himself.
- RKB jumps right into a harder rockin’ track from another band from my new home state, Molly Hatchet. Their rendition of “Flirtin’ With Disaster” starts slightly more country than the original, then quickly builds to the balls-to-the-wall energy of the original. This one is probably second only to the album-opener in terms of my favorites.
- As metal as RKB is, I’m amazed at the reproduction they pull off for the Allman Brothers classic “Ramblin’ Man.” Their version is slightly more edgy, as you would expect from Ron Keel, but with exactly the harmonies that made this song son influential when it was first recorded. RKB even kept the same fuzz-pedal guitar sound for the solo.
- Country and Southern rock fans alike will instantly recognize the Marshall Tucker Band classic “Fire On The Mountain.” This song showcases the skills Ron brings over from his time on the country music charts and is easily the most country song on the album. That’s a big claim, given what track is next.
- You don’t get much more country than Willie & Waylon, and their time-worn classic “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys.” Ron allows his Georgia twang to come through heavily in the vocals, but this is definitely a Keelized rendition of the country anthem. Electric guitars with heavy distortion ride over rocked up drums. Excellent rock tribute to the country staple.
- The next song isn’t a new one for the Ron Keel Band. Back in 2017 they released an Atlanta Rhythm Section cover for “Homesick,” and it found its way onto this record (rightfully so). Soaring Southern-sounding guitar soloing and a solid hard-country rhythm pervade the track.
- Back in 2015, Ron fired up a project called “The Badlands House Band” in Sioux Falls, SD. The band debuted on stage immediately after a horrendous thunderstorm with a star-studded show that included Paul Stanley and Jack Blades. Somehow, I missed their 2nd performance the next night, about 3 miles from my front door in Mankato, MN. In any case, this Keel-fronted band yielded the next track on the record. I can only imagine watching them rock out the old Johnny Cash classic “Ghost Riders In The Sky” in the immediate aftermath of a major storm. It must have been a true Blues Brothers 2000 moment. This rock & roll version of the Cash classic is easily one of my favorite renditions.
- The record wraps up with a seven-and-a-half-minute medley of Creedence Clearwater Revival songs, with just a little more metal edge than the originals. They kick off with Born On The Bayou, rolling into Bad Moon Rising, and then sliding into Fortunate Son. If CCR had been a heavy metal band, these songs would still be classics, based on the sound of this album finale. These are songs that have held up over the years and across multiple genres, and RKB does them total justice.
To close out this review, a little more personal disclosure. In March of 2018, RKB played a little show in a little venue above a little bar downtown Mankato, MN. It was an event put together by David Ellefson of Megadeth. This was my first introduction to what Ron had been doing since the days of The Final Frontier. I had the opportunity to meet (and be mock-strangled by) Ron and spend just a couple minutes saying hello. The experience overall was memorable for me, and I was thoroughly impressed by the new band. Rock & roll has gone through changes and challenges over the decades, and the good ones know how to ride the tide. Ron Keel and RKB have done just that. If you haven’t checked out “Fight Like A Band,” last year's album of original material, I encourage you to pick that one up as well. It’s a good one.