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Black Country Communion - Afterglow (Album Review)

Wednesday, 14 November 2012 Written by Simon Ramsay
Black Country Communion - Afterglow (Album Review)

It was almost tempting to interpret the title of Black Country Communion's third studio album as a bittersweet postscript to their short lived career. Whilst 'Afterglow' is already the Anglo-American supergroup's most successful record - hitting Number 48 on the US Billboard charts for first-week sales - its release has been accompanied by a twitter based war of tweets between former Deep Purple bassist/singer Glenn Hughes and guitar god of the moment Joe Bonamassa. However, recent news suggests the pair have reconciled, with conspiracy nuts left wondering if the whole shebang was merely a clever piece of publicity. It's certainly a theory that makes sense whilst listening to 'Afterglow', a collection of songs boasting so much joyous chemistry it sounds anything but a band on the verge of meltdown. In fact, what's delivered is a stirring musical adventure that takes the seventies hard rock hero worship of the first two records and embellishes it with an increased array of colours, shadings and dynamic textures to create Black Country Communion's most accessible album to date.

ImageThe way 'Afterglow' was written and recorded is what's given it a different feel to BCC's first two efforts. Due to Bonamassa's workload Glenn Hughes penned the lion's share of the material, taking six months to concoct a thoroughly cohesive set of songs that gel together really well. Tight schedules also meant the tracks were finished in just five days, with the band – completed by drummer Jason Bonham and Derek Sherinian on Keyboards – learning the arrangements in double quick time before recording them. As a result there's a spontaneous, incisive verve to the playing that focuses on fleshing out the melody and structure of the well constructed songs rather than labouring over the creation of impressive, yet over thought and over long, musical passages. If the idea of that evolution seems scary don't fret, the band haven't abandoned the rousing Deep Purple duelling with Led Zep template. Just broadened their musical horizons to deliver something that hits familiar beats whilst also feeling fresh and exciting.

The album hurtles down the tracks with the opening onrush of 'Big Train', fuelled by Bonham's piston pumping blitz of rapid fire beats as the tune gathers momentum to deliver a chorus that glides with the kind of hazy vocal harmonies BCC have made their trademark. 'This Is Your Time' swiftly follows, as an empowering anthemic refrain is propped up by a bottom heavy riff that's so toned it could floor both Mike Tyson and Muhammed Ali without breaking sweat. Hughes' former band are brilliantly recalled on the roaring 'Confessor', as a barely restrained venom explodes into an electrifying chorus, with Joe and Glenn's voices soaring together in the vein of Deep Purple's 'Burn', before Messrs Blackmore and Lord are aped on a thrilling keyboard / guitar battle that's lightning in a bottle brilliant from Bonamassa and Sherinian.

Any band featuring John Bonham's son is always going to draw upon on Led Zeppelin's musical heritage, and 'Afterglow' does that with aplomb. Whilst 'Dandelion's' acoustic verses roll along with the perky tumbling cadence of 'Ramble On', the title track is a show stealing epic of Page-esque proportions. The ethereal caress of 'The Rain Song' and the strident intensity of 'Kashmir' intertwine with a compelling loud quiet dynamic as a confessional Hughes recalls his battles with well known addictions. The song's pristine light and bludgeoning dark perfectly enhancing the narrative.

Although BCC's début earned numerous plaudits the band didn't feel truly 'together' until their somewhat darker second record. Touring that album has only strengthened the interplay, which is now effortlessly symbiotic, allowing each member to shine. On 'Crawl' Bonamassa unleashes a brutal response to those who've claimed he's only a blues guitarist and not right for a rock band. His menacing mid tempo riff is so bastard nasty it's likely to make James Hetfield jealous he didn't write it, whilst Sherinian's accompanying esoteric keyboard solo recalls the mind boggling virtuosity of his Dream Theater days. And what more can you say about a man named Bonham? His forceful rhythms and explosive fills are the high calibre engine that drives this beastly barrage of seventies rock and roll, bringing the kind of power that only a man of his moniker could muster.

But this really is Glenn Hughes' album, taking the reins and successfully pushing BCC's boundaries. Whilst he got a little carried away with his 'voice of rock' tag on BCC 1, at times squawking beyond his limits, 'Afterglow' finds him hitting a comfortable median. His vocals show a pleasingly diverse range, hitting euphoric heights on the emotionally charged personal battle cry of 'The Circle', whilst indulging his love of soulful crooning to carry songs like the 'The Giver' through their quieter moments. But the real treat for Glenn fans is 'Common Man', sounding like an out-take from Deep Purple's 'Stormbringer' album with it's chunky groove that concludes with a coda jam of peppy funk swagger. It's sure to delight anyone who witnessed the hip shaking rhythmic swing he brought to Deep Purple's MK 3 line-up. Unless their surname happens to be Blackmore. First name, Ritchie.

'Afterglow' isn't without it's flaws. The speedy recording process occasionally makes the playing feel a little rushed compared with their previous, impeccably orchestrated, musical manoeuvres. On the other hand, that does allow the songs nuances to breathe without being overpowered by the sheer weight of full force instrumental bluster. Also Bonamassa, although playing some impressive solos, feels at times like he's phoning it in, with the odd generic lick a direct result of the wham bam thank you mam recording schedule. If there's one particular criticism of this album it's that Joe doesn't have as much input. His only lead vocal is a duet with Glenn on the bluesy preacher-with-a-vengeance number 'Cry Freedom'. It' s great to hear his and Hughes' contrasting vocals mixed together and a little more wouldn't have gone amiss.

If this isn't Black Country Communion's swan song (pun intended...) it's reason to rejoice. For those who go all misty eyed when recalling the halcyon days of Zeppelin, Purple and co this is manna from heaven. Black Country Communion have really found their voice – either by hook or by crook – and it'll be a thrill to hear what lies beyond such a blazing Afterglow.

Black Country Communion's ‘Afterglow’ is available now through Mascot Records.

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