Friday, July 22, 2011

Black Stone Cherry - Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea

Black Stone Cherry
Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea
Roadrunner Records/Warner Music Australia

When Edmonton (Kentucky, U.S.) act Black Stone Cherry released their major label self-titled debut in 2006 (Which was technically their sophomore effort given they released an independent album titled ‘Rock N’ Roll Tape’ in 2003), it wasn’t exactly hailed as a classic, or went on to become an overnight success. But you could say that it was well received, and at least hinted at the real promise within the band.
And sure enough, the band’s follow-up release ‘Folklore And Superstition’ (2008) delivered on that potential shown on their debut, and proved that Black Stone Cherry’s clever blend of southern rock (In the vein of The Black Crowes, Blackfoot and Black Oak Arkansas) and classic hard rock was something sadly lacking in today’s scene – a void the band were more than happy to fill.
Three years on and the four piece act (Comprising of vocalist/rhythm guitarist Chris Robertson, lead vocalist/backing vocalist Ben Wells, bassist/backing vocals Jon Lawhon and drummer/backing vocals John Fred Young) are back with their highly anticipated new album ‘Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea’.
Given the progression and maturity in their song writing up until this point, you could surmise that the band’s latest release will not only be their strongest release to date, but quite possibly the album to really break the band into the mainstream.
Well, to be perfectly honest, ‘Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea’ will certainly get the band out to the masses, and in a major way. The problem is that it’ll do it for all the wrong reasons.
The opening track ‘White Trash Millionaire’ (Which is also the album’s first single/promotional video clip) isn’t exactly the sort of song I was hoping to hear from Black Stone Cherry and it’s nothing short of disappointing. While the song itself is musically O.K. (If a little over-simplified in the riff department), lyrically this is fairly cliché territory, and kind of like the stuff you would expect from the likes of Kid Rock. Add on top of that a production (Courtesy of hit-maker Howard Benson) where the dynamics are sacrificed in favour of a wall of noise, ‘White Trash Millionaire’ is clearly a step back for Black Stone Cherry in every possible way.
After a somewhat dubious start to the album, the band do manage to redeem themselves a little more with the heavy handed ‘Killing Floor’, which sees the band gear their sound and style more towards Alice In Chains, while maintaining the kind of chorus you would otherwise expect of them.
‘In My Blood’ is a solid track, and indicative of Black Stone Cherry’s familiar sound, but a little too polished to shake off the ‘made for radio’ tag, while the hard rocker ‘Such A Shame’ (Which features Halestorm vocalist Elizabeth Hale on backing vocals) could have come from the likes of Alter Bridge.
The band’s cover of The Marshall Tucker Band’s ‘Can’t You See’ is well done, if a little overbearing and dulled by the huge production, while the heavy ‘Change’ and the easy going ‘Like I Roll’ represent some of the album’s strongest efforts.
Despite their best efforts, ‘Blame It On The Boom Boom’ and ‘Let Me See You Shake’ are the big dumb arena anthems that you would expect Hinder to come up with, while the lightweight rock ‘Stay’ and the semi-acoustic ‘Won’t Let Go’ (Which again features Hale on vocals) are clear attempts of the band experimenting with a more mainstream sound, which I can’t say is ill-fitting, but more disappointing.
Finishing up the album is ‘All I’m Dreamin’ Of’, which at least ends the album on a high note. Although simplistic (Especially on the lyrical front), the country flavoured guitars and unusual percussion in the background given the song a real dynamic that’s probably closer to the real Black Stone Cherry soul than most of the tracks on the album.
If I hadn’t come across Black Stone Cherry’s previous releases, I would have considered ‘Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea’ a good album, if a little cliché in places and lacking in originality.
But because I am familiar with the band’s earlier albums, I’m disappointed by the shift towards stripped back song writing, the lowered standard on the lyrical front and the overbearing production on the album as a whole (Which has robbed the band of any sort of dynamics).
I still like Black Stone Cherry, but I sure hope that ‘Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea’ is a one off, and that the band will bounce back with something a little more substantial and interesting on their next effort.

For more information on Black Stone Cherry, check out - http://www.blackstonecherry.com/

© Justin Donnelly