Rock And Roll Time Machine –
BEST MODERN ROCK VOCALISTS
Rock And Roll Time Machine takes a journey back in time to feature a variety of songs that date back as far as the late ’60s.
In addition to appearing on the embedded YouTube playlist below, all songs featured on Rock And Roll Time Machine can be listened to individually by clicking on the hyper-linked song titles above each review.
By Adam Waldman
Being a rock vocalist in modern times is much different than it was back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, where soaring vocals were commonplace. Though the grunge movement only lasted for a short time, in hindsight, it created a seismic shift in rock music going forward. This is particularly true when it comes to vocalists. For a number of years, it was more about vibe and style than showcasing impressive range.
There is no shortage of talented modern day rock vocalists, but for my money, Myles Kennedy, Corey Taylor, and Brent Smith are the gold standard. It’s not just their respective vocal ranges. They all have an “it” factor that makes them special, just like the legendary vocalists of yesteryear.
Great vocalists have a way of bringing lyrics to life with emotional deliveries. All three of these vocalists excel in that aspect, and they are as good as anyone in modern times at writing deep, meaningful lyrics. It’s the combination of vocal style, range, songwriting, and the ability to touch you deeply with their music that separates Kennedy, Taylor, and Smith from the rest. All of them have a unique way of taking everything from acoustic songs to high energy rockers to covers and make them incredibly memorable…
MYLES KENNEDY – “Watch Over You”
The original version of this beautiful, emotional ballad appeared on Blackbird (Alter Bridge’s first full-length album in 2007). In 2014, Kennedy performed the song at Billboard Live. What I love about acoustic songs is the pure, stripped down vulnerability. When it’s just a voice and an acoustic guitar, there is no place to hide in the mix. Not that Kennedy ever needs to be hidden. He is, quite simply, as good a singer as there has ever been in rock and roll.
On this performance, you get to experience everything from Kennedy’s soulful natural voice to his soaring vocals. Throughout the song, he makes the transition between the two styles feel effortless.
COREY TAYLOR – “Snuff”
“Snuff” was the fifth single off of Slipknot’s fourth studio album in 2008, All Hope Is Gone. In my opinion (and the opinion of many), they saved the best for last. A decade later, this song is still a fan favorite.
In 2016, Corey Taylor recorded an acoustic version of the song at a show in London. I didn’t think that I could love this song any more than the original, but this acoustic rendition is even better in my eyes. It’s the kind of performance that you can listen to over and over again without getting tired of it.
Part of what makes this version so special is the audience participation. Taylor’s moving, melancholic vocals go beyond singing. He uses dynamics and intensity with his vocals and guitar playing in such a way that he is acting as a conductor of sorts to his background singers in the audience.
What I love about this performance (aside from the actual song) is how Taylor wears his vulnerabilities on his sleeve. It takes an already powerful song to another level.
BRENT SMITH – “I’ll Follow You”
The fourth single off of Shinedown’s fourth studio album (2012’s Amaryllis ), “I’ll Follow You” is a stirring, modern-day power ballad that relies heavily upon piano to set the tone. That’s one of the things that makes this acoustic version with only Brent Smith and Zach Myers on guitar so impressive.
Before playing the song for an audience at Boston rock radio station WAAF, Smith introduced the song with a simple explanation…
“Who’s that person who’s going to be there for you when you need to be lifted back up, when you need to be strong again, who’s gonna be there, who’s gonna follow you down any road you want to follow in life.”
As much as I love Smith’s vocals, it’s his poetic, colorful lyrics that really makes him “shine.” He delivers this message of hope in a way that has you painting mental pictures throughout, and does so in an almost bittersweet way.
HIGH ENERGY ROCK SONGS
MYLES KENNEDY – “Anastasia”
It’s hard to believe now because they two have gone on to become one of the best writing teams in recent memory, but Myles Kennedy wasn’t the only vocalist that help Slash launch his solo career. In 2010, Slash released a self-titled solo album that featured a number of different vocalists. Kennedy was, however, the only vocalist with two songs featured on the record. He would go on to tour with the band as the lead vocalist in support of that album.
In 2012, Slash’s solo career continued, albeit under a different moniker – Slash f. Myles Kennedy & The Conspirators. The band’s debut album together was called Apocalyptic Love. It’s a great album, but the song that has always been my clear favorite is “Anastasia.”
With a classical music inspired guitar intro, the riff has made this song a favorite of Slash fans (including me). But it’s the incredible vocal performance of Kennedy that makes me hit the repeat button over and over again when I listen to this song.
COREY TAYLOR – “Tired”
While the acoustic version of “Snuff” (featured above) is right up there with anything that Corey Taylor has ever done, for me, his best work is done with Stone Sour. Taylor is multi-talented, and can growl with the best of them, but I favor his truly unique clean vocals.
In 2012, the band released House Of Gold & Bones – Part 1. They would follow up the double album with Part 2 in 2013.
“Tired” has been one of my favorite songs, (regardless of artist) over the last several years. Musically, it’s fairly straightforward. It’s Taylor’s vocal delivery of thought-provoking lyrics that tips the scales for me.
According to Taylor…
“Tired is about a recrimination of the older ways, this song shows that the internal war is costly and draining, threatening to destroy the resolve of The Human to be better at life.”
His lyrics, while often times cryptic, make you think. And his vocal delivery, makes you feel the emotion of the song even when you don’t fully understand the meaning.
BRENT SMITH – “Diamond Eyes (Boom Lay Boom Lay Boom)”
In 2010, Shinedown released the single “Diamond Eyes (Boom Lay Boom Lay Boom).” The song was written for the film The Expendables. It has since been added to deluxe versions of the band’s 2008 release, The Sound Of Madness.
Speaking about the song, Brent Smith stated…
“We got a phone call from a very interesting individual. It’s not every day that Rambo and Rocky call you at the same time. Sylvester Stallone wanted a song for his new movie, called The Expendables. He said write me something that will personify not only the South, but what rock truly is.”
From the opening note, this song is a non-stop adrenaline ride. The band certainly delivered on what was asked of them by Stallone.
Smith can do aggressive as well as any vocalist out there today, but he always does so with an underlying melody that shows just how special he is. And when it comes to delivering a chorus with a massive hook, Smith is at the top of the food chain.
MYLES KENNEDY – “Levon”
Technically, every performance of a Guns N’ Roses song with Slash is a cover song for Myles Kennedy, but featuring one of those songs would take away from his ability to make other artists’ songs his own.
Earlier this year, Kennedy did an acoustic performance of “Levon” (his favorite Elton John song) at the SiriusXM studios.
Elton’s original was powerful in an upbeat kind of way. What Kennedy has done with “Levon” is in the same realm as what Jeff Buckley did with “Hallelujah” years ago. With his typical dynamic vocal style, Kennedy uses range and power to help tell the story of “Levon” in a much different way than Elton John told it.
Though it stays fairly true to the original, Kennedy’s version of “Levon” stands on its own in a memorable way. You have to imagine that this performance would impress both Elton and his writing partner, Bernie Taupin.
COREY TAYLOR – “Wild Horses”
Stone Sour’s live acoustic cover of “Wild Horses” was featured on 2016’s 10th anniversary edition of the band’s 2006 album, Come What(ever) May.
Mick Jagger brought a ton of charisma and emotion to the original version of “Wild Horses” with the Rolling Stones, so taking this on as a cover was risky. It’s hard to say that any improvement was made upon the virtually perfect original, but Taylor’s unique delivery made the cover on par with the Stones’ version. With just a touch of rasp in his voice, Taylor’s soothing charisma shines through on this brilliant cover.
BRENT SMITH – “Simple Man”
These days, Brent Smith and Shinedown are in the upper echelon of modern day rock bands, so it’s easy to forget that it wasn’t one of their originals that put them on the map. Rather, it was their inspired cover of “Simple Man” that introduced them to the world.
The original is a southern rock classic that was written by fellow Jacksonville rockers, Lynyrd Skynyrd. Though the two bands hail from the same area, it’s clear from the introduction to this live performance that their politics don’t align. After doing some research, it seems as though that may have been the reason for the band to (temporarily) stop playing the song that helped to launch them.
Regardless of any differences of opinion, one thing is hard to debate, Smith took “Simple Man” to another level with his vocal performance. The original had a distinct southern rock feel, and it will always be considered a classic. But when Smith and Shinedown modernized it, they turned it into a chilling masterpiece.