BLACK STONE CHERRY – Kentucky

ArticleSharedImage-60102The only surprising thing with the fact that Black Stone Cherry named their latest album Kentucky is that it took them five albums to do so. Just like Bon Jovi were synonymous with New Jersey – and therefore named their fourth album that – Black Stone Cherry are just as synonymous with Kentucky. The two bands might not have anything in common musically, but both of them have been true to their home towns throughout their careers and just as Bon Jovi had a denim Bon Jovi – New Jersey shield on their cover, very stripped and naked – a perfect and the only choice for an album like that, Black Stone Cherry put the old farmhouse where they used to – and still do, if I’m not misinformed – rehearse. Both bands consists of home town boys, working class people that love their birth place more than any other place on Earth. I like that. I really dig when rock stars keep it simple and home-grown. Of course, Jon Bon Jovi has gone too big for his own good and have become a huge star with a big head, something mr New Jersey, Bruce Springsteen, never became. But Black Stone Cherry feels real, very down to Earth and easy-going without any signs of any big-headedness at all – and make no mistake, Black Stone Cherry have come a long way since their start in 2005 and their brilliant self-titled debut album in 2006. I have been a big BSC fan since that debut album and all of their albums after that have been really good as well. Their rootsy and raw brand of Southern rock combined with big influences by bands such as Deep Purple and even Black Sabbath and a sound that is their own, have attracted a large audience, especially in Europe, of course with the help of constant touring. But they still haven’t managed to become that huge band that headlines festivals and arenas around the world. Why that is leaves me puzzled because God knows they deserve to be by now. The debut and the follow-up, 2008’s Folklore And Superstition, their two finest records, in my book, should have taken them there. When that didn’t happen, the band did the usual mistake and started to listen to people around them, such as their record company and agreed to make a more radio friendly album with their third effort Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea (2011), a really good album by all means, but the flirting with American radio was a bit too obvious and I think people saw through that. With Magic Mountain from 2014, the band had readjusted that little mistake – for the bigger part – and the album was a step in the right direction. But the sales never went sky-high and the band parted with their record company, Roadrunner and for their fifth album the band could do exactly how they pleased without any outside distractions and write and record without any record company executive or hot-shot producer breathing down their necks. Newly signed with Mascot Label Group, the members – the line-up have been the same from go, Chris Robertson on guitar and lead vocals, guitarist Bell Wells, bassist Jon Lawhon and drummer John Fred Young – can finally show the world how BSC sounds when they get to decide all for themselves. I have been looking forward to this record for a long while now and my expectations are sky-high. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the guys really have made THAT album, the album they have been talking about in interviews lately.

Opener and first single “The Way Of The Future” sure bodes well. The classic BSC vibe is there of course, but this is a much darker and heavier version of the band. The distortion brings (slightly) old MC5 to mind, but most I’m thinking of a Southern sounding Black Sabbath, kind of. It’s an awesome song and it’s clear that they haven’t given a rat’s ass about being radio friendly here. Second single “In Our Dreams” goes in a more chorus ridden way, but the song is heavy and tuned down and Alice In Chains comes to mind, but it sounds like BSC all the way – awesome! “Shakin’ My Cage” kicks ass with a big groove, heavy yet swinging and this killer rocker will be a future live killer, believe you me. “Soul Machine” hits me right on the spot and is probably my favorite tune on this album. The groove totally kills and the melodies are catchy as hell. The brass section brings out a whole new dimension and the Motown soul influence mixed with a bad ass pop vibe takes the band to a place they haven’t visited musically before. Kentucky it is, folks. “Long Ride” takes the band into power ballad territory and even though the song comes along with a Southern hard rock swagger, the arrangement and the core of the melodies could have been lying around since 1989 or something, going almost pop metal on us. I love the song and it’s completely cheese free. “War” is a cover of the old Edwin Starr 1970 hit and BSC does a fabulous version of it. The soul and doo wop influence are both present and the horn section swings it up as well, quite impossible to sit still to this one. The heavy hard rocking groove of “Hangman” takes us back to the debut album and everything about feels just right – a real jawbreaker. “Cheaper To Drink Alone” is this album’s party stomper, a hook ridden and groove oriented melodic Southern hard rocker with a chorus made out of glue. The fact that the band has a reputation for being more or less teetotal doesn’t bother much at all. There is a bit of gospel a’capella singing in the beginning of “Rescue Me”, but the tune directly turns into a hard, fast and pretty mean rocker, but the in-your-face melody is really memorable and sticks right off the bat. There’s a big Led Zeppelin vibe over the party rocking “Feelin’ Fuzzy”, but the distortion once again brings back the old 60’s hard rock bands such as MC5. Still, the tune sticks immediately and I guess this one will find its way into the live set as well. There is a groovy darkness resting over “Darkest Secret”, but the more kick-ass swing brings the debut to mind again and the melody is really addictive. Killer stuff. “Born To Die” have some really heavy lyrics but the music is really groove oriented and the melodies are catchy as can be. The guitar arrangement with the twin leads makes me think of Thin Lizzy – that can never be a bad thing – and even Iron Maiden. One of the best tunes on this album without a doubt. The closing track “The Rambler” is an acoustic, calm tune with a big Southern vibe and the fiddles combined with the arrangements gives the song a country feel. It is melancholic and a bit sad in its tone, but very emotional and heartfelt. Way to go.

For you who want the deluxe edition, there are two bonus tracks to digest as well. “I Am The Lion” is a hard, heavy and in-your-face kick ass hard rocker, but the twang guitars brings a real cool contrast to the heaviness of the tune, a damn good song. “Evil” is a cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s old gut-puncher and even though many bands have covered it in the past, there is nothing tiring with BSC’s version. It’s maybe the best interpretation of the song to date. To sum the album up, I must say that they actually have made THAT album that they have been talking about in the interviews lately and it did fulfill all the expectations of the statements that has been made. Style wise, this record have way more in common with their debut album and at times Folklore And Superstition and the quality of the songs is sky-high. I’m gonna stick my chin out here and declare this record their best one to date. The sound scape is darker than ever and the heaviness is palpable but the melodies and the classic BSC sound and arrangements are still very clear and up-front. To be honest, I can’t for the world see how anyone who likes this band just the slightest could be even a little disappointed by this record. The boys are back for real this time – and then some.

9/10

Other Black Stone Cherry reviews:
Magic Mountain
Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea

Tracklist:

1. The Way Of The Future
2. In Our Dreams
3. Shakin’ My Cage
4. Soul Machine
5. Long Ride
6. War
7. Hangman
8. Cheaper To Drink Alone
9. Rescue Me
10. Feelin’ Fuzzy
11. Darkest Secret
12. Born To Die
13. The Rambler

 

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