Album Review: Black Stone Cherry - 'Kentucky'.
“You can’t judge a book looking at its cover”, sang Black Stone Cherry on their most well-known track ‘Lonely Train’. With some bands however, that’s not strictly true, and like AC/DC, when you pick up a Black Stone Cherry album, you know almost exactly what you’re going to get. For the most part though, fans wouldn’t want it any other way.
‘Kentucky’ is the Edmonton boys’ fifth release, and though it breaks little new ground, it forges ahead with the powerhouse hard rockin’ style that the band have become known for. With de-tuned riffs, hard hitting drumming, and the sublime tones of lead singer Chris Robertson, Black Stone Cherry have honed their formula expertly over the last decade or so, and the result is that ‘Kentucky’ is their most self-assured album yet.
Kicking off with a distorted bass and riff as dirty as a mechanic’s overalls, ‘The Way Of The Future’ is buoyed a driving groove courtesy of drummer John Fred Young. Heavy in both aural weight and lush melody, it’s the perfect introduction to the superb twelve tracks that follow.
Lead-off single ‘In Our Dreams’ is up next, and though it’s catchy as hell thanks to its soaring chorus, it retains its heavy edge thanks to some serious Metallica-esque riffing. This slab of concrete heaviness continues on the grooving ‘Shakin’ My Cage’, and although the more commercial ‘Soul Machine’ deviates slightly from the formula with its country licks and female backing vocals, it’s infectious and none the less intense.
As a unit, Black Stone Cherry are tight and focused, however more and more it’s the storming vocals of Robertson that shine. It can be easy to forget just how strong that booming voice is surrounded by such a formidable force, however easing off the pace, the ballad ‘Long Ride’ shows just how much Southern soul the singer possesses.
It’s the guitars that are the driving force behind ‘Kentucky’ however, and a does-what-it-says-on-the-tin cover of Edwin Starr’s ‘War’ (you know the one – “WAR! What is it good for?! Absolutely nuthin’!”) is surprisingly effective, thanks to the crushing tones of Robertson and Ben Wells’.
If it wasn’t already abundantly clear, killer riffs are all over the album, and bringing up its latter half, the pulverising ‘Hangman’ and all-too-relatable ‘Cheaper To Drink Alone’ are counterbalanced by ‘Rescue Me’, which adds lush gospel harmonies, and ‘Feeling Fuzzy’, which throws a country twang into the mix.
However it’s album closer ‘The Rambler’ that deviates furthest from ‘Kentucky’s aesthetic. A minimalist acoustic ballad, its tender delivery and deft touches such as the presence of fiddle and banjo, reinforce the band’s Southern roots. A paean to a life left behind for a life on the road, it’s a fitting way to end an album that is titled in tribute to their home state.
All of which means that ‘Kentucky’ is the quartet’s strongest album yet, offering proof positive of just why Black Stone Cherry have been quietly making the leap into the big leagues. With a headlining appearance booked at this year’s Ramblin’ Man Fair festival, 2016 looks set to be a defining year for the band. Solidifying their reputation, ‘Kentucky’ is the album that will firmly put them on the map.
by Eamon O'Neill, 28th March 2016.
‘Kentucky’ is released this Friday 1st April.