REVIEW: BLACK STONE CHERRY – “Kentucky”
10 years ago, roughly around the same time, Black Stone Cherry arrived with a bang with their self-titled debut album, and mesmerized us with their crunchy sound and feel-good vibes. A decade later and with 5 albums under their belt, this band has truly come of age. Their latest offering, titled ‘Kentucky’, is a special one indeed, as the band goes back to the same place they recorded their debut and the effect is clearly visible in their compositions.
‘Kentucky’ has all the band’s characteristic elements amped up to the next level of awesomeness. The crunchy distorted riffs are heavier, the drum-work is groovier and Chris Robertson’s vocals sound beefier than ever. The album opener and single “The Way of the Future” will have its way with your eardrums, with its sludgy intro and stop-start groovy hooks. Robertson’s massive vocals don’t stay hidden for long as he just belts out the chorus with all his might. The solo towards the end is a nice touch to end this solid opener and the band announce their arrival in style.
The best part about this band is their simplicity –if you assess each element in their songwriting individually, they do not seem to do anything radically different, but with the way they all come together, it is hard not to get lost in their compositions and enjoy their performance. Take the ballad “Long Ride” as an example. It is as straightforward as it can be and you will be more than familiar with the structure it follows, but still you will sing along to its chorus and it will make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. At its core, the band has a great chemistry and that helps them to get away with the seemingly-formulaic way of songwriting. John Fred Young’s drumwork is groovy and full of energy while Ben Wells teams up nicely with Robertson to turn things nice and loud. John Lawhon’s bass does not get lost in the mix and provides a nice cushion to the sludgy guitars.
The album has some standout moments that really pull the listener in. Two tracks that come to my mind are “Soul Machine” and the Edwin Starr cover “War”. Both tracks are so much fun to listen to that you will yearn for more even after multiple spins. I wasn’t expecting a cover to be thrown into the middle of the album, and as it had been a while since I had heard “War”, it made me nostalgic instantly. “Soul Machine” too has interesting brass flourishes and female backing vocals which gives a nice refreshing twist to the band’s sound.
The guitar tone on this album sounds dirtier than all their previous albums combined –apart from the sludgy opener, the band use it effectively in many other tracks like “Hangman”, “In Our Dreams” and “Rescue Me”. The Southern Rock riffage delivered that way simply amplifies the heaviness of their sound and gives Robertson a jagged bed of groove to rest his vocal parts on and deliver his bluesy solos in style. Although I mentioned earlier that the approach of the band seems formulaic, on this particular album there are some subtle variations, especially on tracks like “Darkest Secrets”, which set them apart from previous efforts. “Darkest Secrets” is one of the heaviest tracks on this album and one of my favourites. Especially around the middle of the track, the band inserts a heavy doom-laden passage that I had never heard from this band before. And just after it, Robertson delivers a scream almost ending in a growl before the chorus hits and trust me, that will give you goosebumps. The album ends with an emotional acoustic track called “The Rambler” which bids a melancholic good bye and fitting farewell to this album.
The production incorporates sludgy-sounding guitars yet preserves the Southern Rock essence. Overall the band sounds loud, and album just like a Hard Rock record should. The length of the album is a little over 50 minutes but there is never a dull moment on this album. Black Stone Cherry deliver a kickass album in ’Kentucky’. They clearly surpass their previous efforts and deliver a sound that is dirty and sludgy yet intense and beautiful. They stay well within the Southern Rock boundary but do enough to stand out from the clutter and carve a unique identity of their own. Although they are underrated, they are not the ones to be undermined.