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Black Stone Cherry - Family Tree (Album Review)

Tuesday, 24 April 2018 Written by Simon Ramsay

Photo: Harry Reese

Black Stone Cherry’s last two albums were predominantly intense affairs. Made under the dark clouds of depression and record label strife respectively, they boasted a heavy, aggressive approach that didn’t always play to the group’s strengths. The same can’t be said of ‘Family Tree’. Bursting with infectious exuberance and quality craftsmanship, it’s the work of a band who sound like they’re finally having fun again.

The seeds for this creative rebirth were planted during the making of last year’s covers EP ‘Black To Blues’. Encouraged by the experience of paying tribute to their favourite bluesmen, the band subsequently revisited their classic rock ‘n’ roll roots to help inspire a record that, although recalling many of their heroes, doesn’t sacrifice Black Stone Cherry’s trademark character.

One listen to opening scorcher Bad Habit is enough to make you realise the Kentucky foursome are having an absolute blast.

Forgetting the wickedly cool tempo change during its solo, and vintage Hendrix licks that drive the song, Jon Lawhon’s bass bursts are so frantically glee-ridden that he sets the tone for a record that finds his band well and truly in the zone.

Burnin’ melds strident ZZ Top grooves with playful Allman Brothers harmony licks and James Brown’s funky hard rock stomp, and the sexually-charged swing of Ain’t Nobody is ignited by sassy Honkette backing vocals. Carry Me On Down That Road, meanwhile, couldn’t be more southern if it had a map of Alabama tattooed on its backside.

Dishing up one anthemic singalong after the next, it’s virtually impossible to listen to this record without grinning like a maniac. Southern Fried Friday Night could start a party in a morgue, while New Kinda Feelin’, a jubilant slice of testosterone-soaked honky tonk, is peppered with spunky piano and features a cheeky cameo from Hendrix’s Third Stone From The Sun.

Although primarily focused on lust and love, rousing moments like Dancin’ in the Rain – featuring the legendary Warren Haynes – and the swampy riff monster Got The Blues are built to banish demons. There’s tenderness too, with gospel-enhanced bijou One Last Breath the finest ballad they’ve submitted since Please Come In. And the magnificent title track, with its muscular, overdriven power and searing slide break, epitomises their proud connection to their musical and familial roots.

The sound of this record is absolutely superb. Self-produced and possessing a magic-of-the-moment live feel, it’s brighter, less relentless and in your face than recent efforts. What really elevates it, though, is frontman Chris Robertson’s impressive mixing skills. Allowing us to hear every instrumental nuance clearly, frisky fills and tasty interplay beef up each tune with a level of musicality we’ve not heard on their previous records.

Southern gentlemen are far too respectful to engage in petty one-upmanship, but if ‘Family Tree’ and Blackberry Smoke’s recent ‘Find A Light’ were pitted against each other to determine which record was best then the clear winner would be…every single fan of this genre. To hear one of those albums in a year would be a treat, but to be gifted both within a couple of weeks provides further proof that southern rock is enjoying a new golden age. Black Stone Cherry, armed with this modern day masterpiece, are leading the charge.

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