Sammy Hagar / Sammy and the Wabos

Livin' It Up!

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Sometime after his acrimonious departure from Van Halen, Sammy Hagar decided that it would be best if he turned himself into a hard rock version of Jimmy Buffett. Since he already had his Cabo Wabo Cantina in San Lucas, plus his Cabo Wabo tequila, he was already halfway there -- he was celebrating the beach as much as he was playing music -- but with his 2006 album Livin' It Up! he finally makes the musical transition to full-time beachfront rockin'. Not that this is the manic, balls-out hard rock that made his reputation -- taking a cue from Jimmy, Sammy turns the intensity down a couple of notches (after all, you don't want things to be too rough and rowdy on a beach), adds some acoustic guitars, and even some country-rock flair, most notably in his ingenious reworking of Toby Keith's "I Love This Bar." The fact that Sammy is covering a country song about a bar gives a good indication of where he's coming from on Livin' It Up!: he's aiming for the aging rock & rollers who have started listening to country, but still love classic rock (he covers Dylan's "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35" and rewrites the Staple Singers' "I'll Take You There" as "Let Me Take You There") and spend most of their time fantasizing about "Living on a Coastline" or "Sailin" to "Mexico" or taking "One Sip" as they drive "Halfway to Mexico," knowing that they'll do this all "Someday." It's silly and obvious -- and it also feels like an advertisement for Cabo Wabo enterprises -- which would be irritating if the album weren't so much fun. The thing is, Sammy Hagar really believes in Livin' It Up! in this fashion, so nothing feels forced or contrived here, and the greater musical variety not only makes this record more interesting than his last several records, it also makes it more fun to listen to repeatedly. Plus, having the hints of country, blues, and soul scattered among the rock & roll sounds appropriate for a veteran rocker, which Sammy certainly is. But as Livin' It Up! proves, not even veterans need to settle down -- an introspective record would sound wrong coming from Hagar, and this nonstop beach party simply sounds right.

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