I’ve known Diamond Lane lead singer and frontman Brandon Baumann since he was little kid, as his oldest brother has been one of my best friends since high school. Even when Brandon was young he had a rock ‘n’ roll streak in him, best evidenced by his improbable ability to remove keys from key rings at about the age of three, something we didn’t know he could do but a skill that miraculously supported a preposterous story a group of us had constructed (one which involved him removing said keys from said ring) in an effort to keep from getting into trouble over an event that shall remain unspecified. And if that isn’t rock ‘n’ roll, I don’t know what is.
So the above makes one thing pretty clear – I can’t pretend to be unbiased here. I’ve known Brandon and his family for a long time. But I didn’t have to write this review of Diamond Lane’s catalog – after all, I had a perfect excuse if I didn’t want to do it, since technically this is a vinyl blog and all their stuff is on CD. But the fact of the matter is I was just waiting for their newest release Sapphire to come out, and when I was in Portland a few weeks ago I picked up my copy from his brother. And now I’m ready.
I was digging through my CDs this morning and found the absolute earliest recorded stuff of theirs I have – a three-song self-titled EP from 2002, followed a year later by a slightly longer five-song disc that added two more tracks to the original three. Those were the building blocks that became Diamond Lane’s first full-length album, Cut to the Chase, in 2004. At that point DL was a three-piece featuring Baumann on bass and lead vocals, shredder Jarret Reis on guitar, and Dave Fernandez behind the kit. I remember hearing this album for the first time with his brother and some of our friends and we loved it right from the start. It’s guitar-driven party rock. It’s hanging with your bros, drinking beer, checking out chicks, telling stories, and doing shots kind of music. The 10 songs are straight ahead rockers – not a lot of fancy production work, just in your face riffs, firm drum beats, and some passionate singing. Most of my friends gravitated towards the title track, “Cut to the Chase,” along with “Burn it Down” and “Gimmie That Girl,” all of which are very good. “Burn it Down” kills when played live, giving Reis a chance to do some of his best and fanciest 1980s style guitar work, and having a super-catchy chorus, and “Gimmie That Girl”… well… c’mon, you can guess what that’s all about.
Since you gave me that sexy look,
I can’t get you out of my head.
You left me speechless, a kiss in the can,
I just stood there and said…
Gimmie that girl,
Gimmie that girl,
Gimmie that girl,
Baby come on!
— “Gimmie That Girl”
For my money though, the best track on Cut to the Chase, and arguably my all-time DL favorite, is “Sun God”. To me this song is everything DL is about all wrapped up into one near perfect package. Reis’ guitar work here kicks so much ass it isn’t even funny, from the intro to the solos, the singing is more gravely (in a good way), and we even have a bit of harmonizing here. This is what guitar rock is supposed to sound like, and I for one was glad to seeing the boys bringing it back again. I think it’s the most mature effort on the album and it’s actually one of their earliest tracks, having appeared on that very first CD from 2002.
From there DL’s next release was the 2008 four-song Save This City EP, which somehow I never got my hands on in CD form (I’m going to have to talk with Brandon’s brother about that!). Fortunately my friends all the albums here are available on iTunes, so downloading it was only one click away. It’s funny – I remember these songs, particularly “Bite the Bullet,” which is one of their signature tracks and is another crowd favorite in the clubs, but I guess I just never had my own copy.
With Save This City we see a band that had developed significantly, both in terms of their skills and in the work done in the studio. The sound is harder, most notably the drumming which is much faster and bass driven. The backing vocals on the choruses, especially noticeable on “Bite the Bullet,” have a cleaner sound, undoubtedly the result of some production work. Baumann’s voice has improved a lot as we see him develop into more of a true singer, and Reis’ guitar work is more precise. It’s a more polished effort than Cut to the Chase, which stands to reason given four years of practicing, playing shows, and partying.
Once again I’m a contrarian, and while I like “Bite the Bullet” my favorite song on this EP is “I Got Nothing,” which flat-out would have been played on the radio and MTV had it come out in 1986 when this kind of hair rock was at the peak of its popularity. The backing vocals on this puppy are perfect, and Baumann gets back to his grittier style of singing, rasping out his rock ‘n’ roll message (“I got nothin’ to lose”). DL also gives us their first true classic rock ballad in “Lonely Road,” and the CD closes out with another solid rocker in “One More Minute”.
Fast forward to 2011 and we have a new full-length Diamond Lane release, the 10-song World Without Heroes. We also have some changes in the lineup, with Baumann handing the bass over to the talented Ray Zhang so he can focus exclusively on singing, and Jonah Nimoy taking over the drumming duties. The most noticeable change on this album is in the guitar sound. There’s less of that higher pitched 80s Eddie Van Halen style sound and a move to something that is deeper, lower, and richer. It’s heavier all the way around. Baumann’s singing continues to improve on each successive album and the band appears to have backed off on the backing vocals a bit, providing him with more of a showcase for his range. The band went a bit rawer than the sound they had on Save This City, and I think it was a good return to their more hard rock roots.
I remember listening to rough cuts of this with Brandon and a group of my friends from high school and college, all of who have known him forever. It was a bit weird, because we were pretty quiet all the way through. This album had a different sound and we paid a lot of attention to it during that first listen. I remember at that time “I Know Who You Did Last Summer” was the one people focused on, but I think my two favorites were “Needle Down” and “Time Bomb.” After re-listening to World Without Heroes I’m sticking with “Time Bomb” as the best track on the album, with strong honorable mentions to “Sundress City” and the party anthem “Never Going Home”:
Well it’s Friday night,
I got paid today and I don’t give a damn,
I’m gonna spend what I made.
Best boots on, rockin’ shades all night,
Lookin’ so money and I don’t even try,
Hit the streets a runnin’, deep downtown tonight,
Gonna let loose, get lucky baby,
Does it really matter cuz I’m livin’ my life.
— “Never Going Home”
Which brings us to 2013, and Diamond Lane’s newest EP the five-song Sapphire. There are some additional roster changes, with Baumann, Reis, and Zhang remaining from World Without Heros, now joined by new additions drummer Zak St. John and a second guitarist, Frankie Lindia (the current lineup has been together for a while now). Adding another guitar gives the band a lot more flexibility, and this is by far the best sounding DL release from top to bottom. They strike a great balance here, combining the deeper sound they had on World Without Heroes and matching it up with some of the screaming guitar work from the earlier albums. It’s not just hard, and it’s not just heavy; it’s both. Baumann has more of an edge to his voice, and the writing is better as well.
I’m hanging my hat on “What I Am” as the EPs best track, though to be honest it’s hard to pick favorites here because the whole thing is that good. This is a true party album. We’ve got songs about strippers (“Sapphire”), boozing (“Haymaker”), partying (“Hey Hell Yeah”), and telling off lying women (“Ain’t Coming Back”). Frankly just listening to it makes me itch for a PBR pounder and a shot of Jack. To start. This is the kind of album that starts the nights that result in epic hangovers. Hey Hell Yeah!!!
You may have actually heard Diamond Lane without knowing it, because some of their songs have been featured as bumper music on FOX sports broadcasts, most notably tied to the UFC. All their stuff is available on iTunes, so you have absolutely zero excuse to not check them out, and I’ve even pointed you towards some of what I think are their best tracks. The boys have a YouTube channel as well so you can even watch some of their videos (check out the acoustic of “What I Am”), including Baumann’s first commercial for BRISK iced tea, which you really owe it to yourself to watch. So crack open a cold one, give them a listen, and unleash your inner rock god party animal.