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Black Stone Cherry

The Southern SOUNDGARDEN, hard-rock stoners BLACK STONE CHERRY have fast become one of America’s top metal attractions since forming in June 2001. From Edmonton, Kentucky, school friends Chris Robertson (vocals, lead guitar) and John Fred Young (drums), spurred into action when they found Ben Wells (rhythm guitar) and Jon Lawhon (bass). Still teenagers when they started to amass an audience among local crowds, a self-financed CD (ROCK N’ ROLL TAPE (2003) {*5}) was promoted at gigs and forwarded to the necessary patronage to hear their potential.
Roadrunner Records were duly impressed by their hi-energy, hard-hitting post-grunge, but more so, for their Southern-rock bent and uncompromising brand of retro rock’n’roll. The eponymous BLACK STONE CHERRY (2006) {*7} sold sufficient copies to crack the Top 100; fiery frontman Robertson coming across as GODSMACK’s Sully Erna or a metallic ROBERT PALMER. Possibly too derivative and predictable to push out the envelope on their lonesome, the set proved their worth on titles `Rain Wizard’, `Lonely Train’, `Hell & High Water’, `Crosstown Woman’ and `Rollin’ On’ (the latter featuring Reece Wynans on B-3 organ); its only cover was a tasty reading of the YARDBIRDS’ `Shapes Of Things’.
2008’s FOLKLORE AND SUPERSTITION {*7} out-sold its predecessor by hitting the Top 30 on either side of the Atlantic. Produced by Bob Marlette, names such as LYNYRD SKYNYRD and MOLLY HATCHET were bandied about for the likes of `Peace Is Free’ and `You’, while their rip-roaring, fist-pumping anthems like `Reverend Wrinkle’, `Blind Man’, `Devil’s Queen’ and `The Bitter End’, had a sense of stop-me-if-you-heard-it-all-before.
Slick and sleazy, swaggering Southern-rockers BLACK STONE CHERRY solidified their position among the Premiership contenders with BETWEEN THE DEVIL & THE DEEP BLUE SEA (2011) {*6}, a Howard Benson-produced record that sold slightly better in Britain. Balancing riff-ready retro with countri-fied ballads, SHINEDOWN and NICKELBACK could rest easy that their crown was about to be stolen on `White Trash Millionaire’, `Blame It On The Boom Boom’, `Let Me See You Shake’ and `Stay’, despite the latter track scaling the country charts for FLORIDA GEORGIA LINE. Augmented by Lzzy Hale (of HALESTORM) on `Such A Shame’ and `Won’t Let Go’, southern-rock connections were maintained in a rendition of MARSHALL TUCKER BAND’s `Can’t You See’.
Adding the production and engineering chores of “Evil” Joe Baressi, MAGIC MOUNTAIN (2014) {*6} continued to crunch the numbers and dig the dirt in the quartet’s attempt at full-on blue-collar rock. Highlighted by the hook-line `Me And Mary Jane’ (a minor hit), the Top 30 (UK Top 5) set had its strengths in the hard-chugging `Holding On… To Letting Go’, `Bad Luck & Hard Love’, `Never Surrender’ and `Fiesta Del Fuego’.
Now the property of Ron Burman’s Mascot Records, the homecoming back-to-basics KENTUCKY (2016) {*7} was BSC’s coming-of-age record. As close to BLACK SABBATH, LED ZEPPELIN via grunge/stoner-rock and MASTODON, there was certainly a variety of killer hooks and gut-wrenching gunslingers on board here. Opening with gnarly `The Way Of The Future’, and shifting into top gear on `Soul Machine’ and the testing `Long Ride’, there was also room for a ROBERT PALMER/POWER STATION-styled update of EDWIN STARR’s psychedelic soul-stirrer, `War’. Mysteriously, the album only just cracked the Top 40, although in Old Blighty, they once again reached Top 5 status.
Building on from a UK Top 30 mini-set/EP of cover versions, BLACK TO BLUES (2017) {*5} – showcasing works by genre hierarchy MUDDY WATERS, WILLIE DIXON, FREDDIE KING and ALBERT KING – BLACK STONE CHERRY tendered their own compositions via 2018’s FAMILY TREE {*7}. However, relatively moderate sales Stateside (#106) – but Top 10 in Britain – had conflicting views on which they should focus. Verging on Kentucky fried country-blues rather than soulful stoner-rock, the workmanlike swagger of Robertson and Co oozed blood, sweat and grease on sharpest cuts, `Bad Habit’, `New Kinda Feelin’’, `My Last Breath’ and the visceral title track anchor.
Exploring another re-imagined set of old masters via FREDDIE KING, HOWLIN’ WOLF, ROBERT JOHNSON, OTIS RUSH, ELMORE JAMES and SON HOUSE, the gunslinging six-track mini-set/EP, BACK TO BLUES, VOL.2 (2019) {*7} would provide a foot in the past for the swaggering Southern rock’n’rollers. The caustic combo surely tore up the rule book for the likes of `Early One Morning’, `Me & The Devil Blues’ and `Down In The Bottom’: songs to wake up the dead – if not their composers – if performed near a graveyard.
© MC Strong/MCS Apr2016-Nov2019

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