Back to their roots - and back to form too...
Back in 2011 I was on my way to Las Vegas for a week or so with my mate Choppy. We had it all booked in and all was looking good, so feeling the need to add more to our itinerary, I had to find a gig to go see while there. I was in luck as Alter Bridge were playing at the House of Blues, Mandalay Bay Casino on the 23 April. Supporting Alter Bridge was a band from New Zealand, Like a Storm and Black Stone Cherry. I must admit, at the time I wasn’t aware of the guys from Kentucky so I took to good old google, and found the Lonely Train YouTube clip.
The House of Blues was quite an intimate venue and the crowd was really there to have a good time. A great night was had by Chop and myself, and I was really impressed by the show put on and the distinct sound of Southern Rock, so began my proper introduction to Black Stone Cherry.
I went out and bought Black Stone Cherry and Folklore & Superstition immediately on my return to Australia and have been a pretty decent fan since that night. Beyond the Deep Blue Sea was released not long after that and I enjoyed it. With the last release Magic Mountain though, I found myself not listening to it as much as the previous albums. So when Sentinel Daily gave me the chance to review the latest album Kentucky, I came in with a little trepidation and also a fair bit of hope that the response to Magic Mountain was a one off. The heavily distorted opening riff and sliding intro before the distinctive drawl of Chris Robertson (think drinking whiskey in a southern USA bar where you just expect awesome rock bands) announces that, if you weren’t aware already, this is definitely a Black Stone Cherry album.
This is the fifth studio album from the band and it finds them returning to their roots in recording at the same local studio with the same engineer as their self-titled debut. After a couple of listens I find myself really enjoying all the nuances of the album. To me it is a definite return to form and brought back memories of what I first experienced this band when attending that Las Vegas gig.
The tone of album has the feeling that the band is free of restraint and has tried to replicate the feel of being live at one of their shows. This is confirmed in the press release when guitarist Ben Wells is quoted as saying “We went in focused, but not over-prepared. We wanted to leave room for creativity in the studio and man did it happen.” The album has a lot to offer for fans and non-fans alike.
The opener, The Way of the Future has a story to tell and tells it with an in your face punch; the heavy In Dreams (co-written with Bob Marlette of Alice Cooper, Rob Zombie, Seether, Saliva fame), is a great start to the album. Shakin’ My Cage doesn’t let up the pace and by this stage I find myself really enjoying the groove that Jon Lawhorn and John Fred Young make such a staple of BSC albums.
But it’s not all smash mouth and meaty grooves; showing off their maturity, the band have blended their southern fried rock sound with some funky blues in Soul Machine, including backing vocals from Sandra and Toynnia Dye. The anthemic Long Ride, I can see will be an instant crowd pleaser with lighters/phone lights raised in arenas everywhere when it is played. A cover of Edwin Starr’s Motown classic War is pretty well done, but feels oddly placed on the listing.
Hangman is a toe tapping, head nodding beauty. Cheaper to Drink Alone starts with a lick that reminds me of both Voodoo Chile by Jimi Hendrix and a Red Hot Chili Peppers track combined before telling the perils of falling for the wrong “one”. The album finishes strongly with the tracks Rescue Me (Gospel intro included), Feelin’ Fuzzy (real groovy sound to go with the lyrics), Darkest Secrets with a breakdown that gives a Black Sabbath vibe, Born To Die rounding out the heavy feel. The last track on the album is The Rambler (co-written with Jasin Todd – ex-Shinedown), an acoustic ballad with a touch of fiddle work about rebellion and heartbreak to nicely bring the album all together.
Lyrically they have covered a number of topics that should be relatively easy for all people to relate to. The riffs supporting the lyrics are often powerful and in your face and you can quite easily see it will translate well to a live performance. All in all, Kentucky is an album that grows on you and will be magnificent in a live setting. The album’s best songs in my view are The Way of the Future, Long Ride, Hangman, Cheaper to Drink Alone and Born to Die.
Black Stone Cherry are heading to Australia for a series of gigs with Steel Panther in June. I am going to miss them this time, being away overseas at that time so I contacted Choppy to see what he thought of the album and whether he was going to gigs. The response, “Yeah I f’n love it” and “Hell yeah, I am there.” Do yourself a favour, buy the album and catch them live – you won’t regret it.