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Though it's still de rigueur to bitch about 2016, the folks at Ripple Music can't complain. The label had arguably their best year so far, with critically lauded albums from Wo Fat, Gozu and Devil To Pay (among others) connecting strongly with an ever-widening stoner/doom fan base. We're barely into the new year and the hits keep coming; Ripple has designated Sunlight, the debut album from Virginia's Freedom Hawk, for a much-needed vinyl release (as well as CD and digital). For years the only way to hear Sunlight was being lucky enough to grab a self-released CD from the band at a show, or via sketchy MP3 blogs out in the Internet ether; a shame, as it's a strong album from the earlier days of the "retro rock revival" that has saturated the scene for the better part of this decade.

Sunlight doesn't break any molds, but that's not the point. From the beginning, Freedom Hawk has been aware of what really makes a rock song work: riffs and structure. Their influences are immediately apparent, but so is the fact that they studied the past masters. "Executioner" opens the album with an eerie, singular riff and some psychedelic flourishes, but it's a head fake; the rest of the band kicks in and it's Master Of Reality time, complete with singer T.R. Morton's excellent Ozzy falsetto. There's more than the prerequisite Sabbath worship going on, though. The majority of Sunlight's tracks have an up-tempo, bouncing groove, not unlike Clutch circa Pure Rock Fury though not quite as intense. "Land Of The Lost" would be at home in the soundtrack to an auto racing video game, while the title track and "Palomino" go for the laid-back, head-nodding Fu Manchu vibes.

"Going Down" slows the proceedings down to a blues crawl with shimmery guitars and vocals floating over top, techniques Freedom Hawk would later revisit with "Hollow Caverns" on their 2010 self-titled record. "King Of Order" closes Sunlight on a strong note, driving riffs and all, albeit with a goofy hidden track buried five minutes after it fades out. The production sounds slightly beefed up compared to the various YouTube rips that can be found, and just being able to put needle to wax will be welcome for fans old and new. Happy new year, indeed.

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Sunlight is out on 1/27 via Ripple Music. Follow Freedom Hawk on Facebook. As an added bonus, you can catch Freedom Hawk live with fellow East Coast riff kings Irata on their upcoming Southwest/West Coast tour dates.

Freedom Hawk & Irata: The Endless Search For the Perfect Riff/West Side Tour

3 Feb – Nashville, TN – Springwater
4 Feb – Fort Worth, TX – The Rail Club
5 Feb – El Paso, TX – Rockhouse Bar & Grill
7 Feb – San Diego, CA – Soda Bar
8 Feb – Anaheim, CA – Out Of The Park Pizza
9 Feb – San Francisco, CA – Thee Parkside
10 Feb – Eugene, OR – Old Nick’s Pub
11 Feb – Portland, OR – High Water Mark Lounge
12 Feb – Seattle, WA – Funhouse Seattle
13 Feb – Yreka, CA – Chromaphonic Music Hall
14 Feb – Sacramento, CA – Starlite Lounge
15 Feb – Las Vegas, NV – Beauty Bar
16 Feb – Tucson, AZ – The Flycatcher
17 Feb – Fort Stockton, TX – The Garage
18 Feb – Austin, TX – Swan Dive

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