There's something very unique about Ron Keel that I think has escaped most of his peers that were spawn from the 80s hair metal scene. For most, they have been content to stick to the formula that made them famous, only take an experimental shot once the mainstream popularity had run it's course, and then returned to their classic form to ride out their career. With Ron Keel, it's been a very different experiment which he has crafted into a career. As an artist, Keel is one of neverending experimentation. He's had hair metal albums, acoustic releases, country metal releases, and now more of a southern rock/metal record. METAL COWBOY seems to have a lot of people remembering Keel's project Iron Horse, but I'd say that is highly inaccurate. The "Metal Cowboy" is proving once again that he's more of a Metal Chameleon. Hard at times, bluesy in other parts and full of twists and turns, METAL COWBOY could very well be the best release Keel's had his name on since THE RIGHT TO ROCK.
Listening to METAL COWBOY, you really get the feeling that this solo release was probably more in the direction that his past project Iron Horse would have gone in had Keel not had bandmates to help formulate the music. There are definitely songs on METAL COWBOY that you could see appearing on Keel or Iron Horse albums, but then there are song that are completely new to the Keel arsenal for a lot of reasons. "My Bad" is a primary example. This is a hard, angry song that showcases Keel in a brand new light as a rant n' roller. He's never really brought anger to the music (at least to the vocals of any project), and yet it's on display as he rages against the governmental corruption that has gripped this nation. There are other songs, like "What Would Skynyrd Do", that are cut straight from the Skynyrd/ZZ Top blues rock cloth. Throughout METAL COWBOY, you get the widest assortment of song structure that Keel has ever put together on any release.
In addition to the songs themselves, his band is diverse which leads to a lot more interesting music. Tesla's Frank Hannon brings his giant sound to much of this release, including "The Cowboy Road", which stands as one of the better tunes on the entire release. Still, at other times, such as the disc's best track "Just Like Tennessee", it's Ditch Kurtz's old country slide guitar that adds the perfect spice to this recipe of great music. For his part, Ron Keel sounds really strong vocally throughout. He's definitely not the screamer that he used to be anymore, but he can still bring it. On tracks like "The Last Ride", the grittier, more earth toned vocals of the modern day Keel certainly drive this rocker forward.
PITRIFF RATING - 91/100 - Ron Keel may have been spawned from the 80s when Steeler and Keel were atop the hard rock world, but this performer has never stopped being aggressive or creative. He's never stopped reinventing himself either. METAL COWBOY has a ton of flavor that both old Keel fans as well as classic rockers can all sink their teeth into. A very good listen from one of the most unheralded voices from the 80s glory years.