Richie Tipton and the First Kings aren’t exactly the saints their cross-bearing CD art makes them out to be. “I smoke pot, it’ll make me high,” sings Tipton in the indisputably iconoclastic first lines of their self-titled album.
Written over the span of well over a decade, First Kings is a collection of introspective songs on life, love, religion and politics. Tipton has written himself a memoire on those things you’re not supposed to discuss at the dinner table and hidden it inside a cheeky rock album.
Hearing southern rock lyrics mock religion is admittedly a cognitive dissonance on first listen. Tipton is solid proof that the genre has come a long way since Neil Young’s “Southern Man.”
If Tipton’s viewpoints are too liberal, the album’s foundations in rock are enough to absolve him of his sins. “Kings are Flyin’” starts off at a humbled pace but quickly turns into heavy irreverence, showing that Tipton isn’t afraid to drive a riff.
Tipton is the star of the album. His voice is Jim Messina meets Axl Rose, but in a good way. He takes a soft-sung hymn with a country croon and mixes it with his own careless, raspy ring. It gives a Tom-Petty-with-balls edge to the distorted guitar riffs and adds flavor to the classic rock homage.
The album covers the gamut of rock-song iterations with the expected assortment of picks, strums and slides. Tipton hasn’t broken new ground or defied genres with his debut, but it’s clear that wasn’t his intention. Richie Tipton and his First Kings have paid their respects to the rock gods with a roaring ode to freedom.