April 1, 2016 Black Stone Cherry – Kentucky (Album Review)
It has been fifteen years since the formation of the Edmonton, Kentucky band known as Black Stone Cherry. The story began back when Chris Robertson (lead vocals and lead guitar) and John Fred Young (drums and backing vocals), who is son of rhythm guitarist of The Kentucky Headhunters, found a passion for playing music. It was not long before Ben Wells (guitar and backing vocals) and Jon Lawhon (bass and backing vocals) would join them, making Black Stone Cherry and official band in 2001. Using The Kentucky Headhunters practice space to jam and begin recording their music, they gained a large local following after playing gigs in clubs around Edmonton. Working hard and honing their craft, they soon caught the attention of Roadrunner Records who signed the band on, resulting in their 2006 self-titled debut. Well-received as a mix of Southern and Hard Rock, the record spawned three singles, including the ever popular “Lonely Train.”
Plugging away, by 2008 Black Stone Cherry had released their sophomore album, Folklore and Superstition. Reaching new heights and receiving charted positions in eight different countries, as well as going number one in the UK. This proved that Black Stone Cherry was an unstoppable force as they peaked in charts with 2011’s Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, and again with 2014’s Magic Mountain. While some may call them Southern Rock, Heavy Metal, or Hard Rock, Lawhon explained to CrypticRock, “We are Rock at our core. Whatever comes out of us from there, it is what it is. We have always just wanted to write good music regardless of the style or the placement of radio, or any of that. At the end of the day, we just want people to say, ‘What a great song, what a great performance,’ or both.” With that in mind, the band who spends ample time on the road touring found the time to work on new material in the form of their fifth studio effort, Kentucky. Their first studio album away from Roadrunner Records, the newest album is their first on Mascot Label Group and also sees the band returning to the same location they recorded their self-titled album a decade earlier.
Opening with lead single “The Way of the Future” is a perfect way to begin with an in-your-face, heavy Hard Rock song featuring impressive guitar playing while both the bass and drums provide a steady beat. Of course the strong vocals performance from Robertson does not go unnoticed as his approach gets his message across about the future, politics, society, and taking back control of one’s life. Next comes “In Our Dreams,” which starts off with an acoustic guitar intro that quickly morphs into a Hard Rock song. The composition of the song itself flows beautifully as the drums and bass at times accompany Robertson singing without guitar. In addition, the catchy chorus and unique sound of the song will be a fan-favorite. Directly following is “Shakin’ my Cage” featuring a soloing guitar intro followed by a heavy guitar section that is a must listen for any Hard Rock fan.
Adding some Soul and Funk into their Rock sound, “Soul Machine” brings in their very own hometown female backing chorus to join Robertson, adding a richness to the song. Based around Soulful sounds, there is still a uniqueness and heavy guitar soloing mixed with a steady drum, bass, and rhythm guitar sound that is sure to get fans moving. Mixed in-between the heavier songs comes the ballad “Long Ride” where Robertson delivers haunting vocals with passion and conviction. It is on this track Robertson weaves a love story in with well-placed guitar solos that is sure to bring about a tear or two to listeners eyes. Sprinkling in a cover, Black Stone Cherry offer up their own rendition of Edwin Starr’s 1960 classic “War.” Staying true to much of the song’s soulful vibrations, they add a twist of their own, making it a little more Hard Rock, but equally as potent as the original.
Moving along, “The Hangman” is a no holding back Heavy Rock tune full of powerful lyrics, strong guitar riffs and solos, accompanied by an unwavering percussion section. Complemented by a catchy chorus, the drawing point of the song is the heavy meaning within the words. This comes prior to “Cheaper To Drink It,” which is a cut that will get the listener on their feet with its Southern Rock feeling mixed with a touch of Funk. Then, with a Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” sounding introduction, “Rescue Me” becomes a heavy song with a touch of melody throughout. Quite a diverse track, there are even, at some points, a little Techno that can be heard. In contrast, “Feelin’ Fuzzy” is a classic true Rock-n-Roll song with tight guitar solos, rhythm guitar playing, and steady drum beat.
Deep into Kentucky comes the haunting atmosphere of “Darkest Secrets,” which launches into full array of heavy guitar riffs, solos, and percussion. Described by Young as “a person’s unknowable and innermost self,” the instrumental attack of the song comes across heavy, intense, and raw. As with “Born to Die,” which is more of a true Southern Hard Rock song held together by an upbeat tempo, it seems to be a song describing human existence and its condition. This leads into the song entitled “The Rambler,” which is the only on Kentucky completely performed acoustically. A fitting way to end the record, the song continues as strings are added to enrich textures as the words reflect on life in the country, and of course, Kentucky.
Kentucky may be the hardest Rock album Black Stone Cherry has produced lyrically and musically. What makes this band so unique is their songwriting ability and strength to convey a story. Throughout the songs, no matter how heavy, there is not just a message, but a tale to be told. Feeling a sense of freedom at this point in their career, Black Stone Cherry have struck gold once more with a strong album full of highlights. CrytpicRock gives Kentucky 4.5 out of 5 stars.