BLACK STONE CHERRY – Magic Mountain

Magic MountainToday, now that Black Stone Cherry has made it big – well, at least kind of big – it’s really nice to be able to say that I have been there with them from the start. Well, since their debut album anyway. I first made their acquaintance when a friend of mine who had seen the Edmonton, Kentucky four piece open up for Hinder in a pretty tiny place and been completely blown away, talked me into giving them a chance. I just HAD to check them out, she said. So I did. Black Stone Cherry’s self titled debut from 2006 blew me right off the map and I have been a fan ever since and I never looked back. The guys gained recognition pretty fast, at least in Europe and foremost the U.K. I remember them playing at noon at Sweden Rock Festival in 2008, the weather was hot and I was pretty sure next to no one would show up because I didn’t think they were a name by then. But the space in front of the Rock Stage was full, crowded as hell and even singer / guitarist Chris Robertson was taken aback by the size of the crowd. “I can’t believe all you people showed up to see us when you could have been sleeping through your hangover instead”, he mused. Later that year they released their second – and in my opinion, their best – album Folklore And Superstition and after that, Black Stone Cherry could do no wrong. Or so I thought. Their last album Between The Devil And Deep Blue Sea (2011) wasn’t bad at all, quite the opposite, it was very good album. However, it wasn’t as strong as its predecessors and it was obvious that the way they wrote many of the songs was, at least a bit, forced upon them by their record company. They wanted air play and better record sales so the songs needed to be more commercial and it was easy to spot. Some fans even started to compare Black Stone Cherry to Nickelback because of their “new” sound. Now everybody knows that Nickelback are a band we all “must” hate to remain credible. What a crock of shit. I think Nickelback is a great band, but no matter what, Black Stone Cherry did not sound like them at all, they were just a little more radio friendly. Still, a move that I’m not that comfortable with, so I thought it would be interesting to hear if Black Stone Cherry would continue down that route or if they had gone back to their roots with their new album.

First of all, the change from producer Howard Benson, who has produced Kelly Clarkson, Hobastank, Seether and Daughtry (did I mention that they were trying to gain a more commercial approach…?) to Joe Barresi (Tool, Nine Inch Nails, Queens Of The Stone Age) speaks volumes, really. Just compare that acts the two producers has previously worked with and you’ll notice that Black Stone Cherry has learned from their past mistakes and threw all thoughts of being a commercial radio rock band out the window. At least that is what it looks like and what the band has been saying in interviews, but does the album keep that promise? The songs and the production will be the judge of that. And by the sound of the opening track “Holding On… To Letting Go” it sure sounds like they’re back on solid ground. The song is great, a heavy tune with some Black Sabbath soaked riffing. “Peace Pipe” is slow, almost ballad-like, but more of a 70’s stoned rocker and speaking of weed, the album’s first single “Me And Mary Jane” (Mary Jane being slang for marijuana) is the one of the biggest odes to grass since Black Sabbath sang praise to the “Sweet Leaf”. Which is kinda strange as the guys has more or less painted themselves out as some kind of mama’s boys that doesn’t dare to either drink or smoke. It’s a great, 70’s rocker, not a far cry from the last album’s leading single “White Trash Millionaire”. however, “Runaway” is a pretty boring ballad where they fall back on last album’s aiming for air play and yes, this one is pretty obvious as well. But things return to the great normal again with the title track, a classic Black Stone Cherry rocker. “Never Surrender” is a real killer that takes us back all the way to their first album – raw, heavy and with a steady beat. Another ballad follows, but this time they have done everything right. “Sometimes” is a great song – floating, shuffling and stoney. I would guess that “Fiesta Del Fuego” is also another shot at rock radio as the song is poppy hard rock with a big bit feel, but this time I don’t mind. The song is awesome and besides, it ends with a really cool jam. “Dance Girl” has a bit of a mid 90’s feel, but it’s even more based in the 70’s and the song has a real hot groove – what’s not to love about that? “Hollywood In Kentucky” is a southern half ballad with a twist of country. It’s a great song with a great set of lyrics to go with it.

It sure feels like Black Stone Cherry is back on their feet with this album and that air play and record sales aren’t their main priority here, give or take the odd song or two. Sure, the production is a bit glossy at times and a bit slick here and there but the overall sound here is based on heaviness and a good shot at making this sound both raw and smooth. This is more back to the seventies and less Nickelback (not that I thought that they ever sounded anything like Nickelback, but you get my drift). This sounds like a hungry band, a band that is here to take on the world. That said, this album is a step up from their last album, but still not as good as their first two. Still, Black Stone Cherry is one of the best bands out there today, still recording and touring and as a live act, they are world-class. For a fan, this album can easily be bought unheard because I would be very surprised if any Black Stone Cherry fan out there is disappointed by this. World domination should be right around the corner – God knows they deserve it!

Jon Wilmenius (8/10)

Tracklist:

1. Holding On…To Letting Go
2. Peace Pipe
3. Bad Luck & Hard Love
4. Me and Mary Jane
5. Runaway
6. Magic Mountain
7. Never Surrender
8. Blow My Mind
9. Sometimes
10. Fiesta Del Fuego
11. Dance Girl
12. Hollywood in Kentucky
13. Remember Me

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