Maybe I should put a disclaimer in here – Black Stone Cherry are a personal favourite of mine – and that’s probably the biggest understatement of this, and the previous, millennium. As such, this review of their 7th studio album, The Human Condition, was never likely to be from a neutral standpoint, which might have caused problems if it had not been up to scratch!
Album teasers “Again” and “Ringin’ In My Head’ certainly hinted at a strong long-player release from the Kentucky 4-piece, best known for rock radio and dancefloor bangers “Blame It On The Boom Boom” and “White Trash Millionaire”. To put the release into perspective, Black Stone Cherry hit the scene with a flourish back in the mid-noughties with their self-titled debut, featuring the timeless classics “Rain Wizard”, “Lonely Train” and “Hell and High Water”. They perhaps peaked (in the eyes of the wider rock world at least) with the aforementioned crowd pleasers from 2011’s Between The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.
2014’s Magic Mountain sported live fan-favourite “Me and Mary Jane”, 2016’s Kentucky the heart-string-puller “The Rambler” and 2018’s Family Tree saw “Bad Habit” catch the ears – so we’ve not been short on great tracks coming from Chris, Ben, Jon and John.
There is however a different feel to this release – a harder edge perhaps – some heavier riffs, a helping of more-than razor-sharp solos.
The first 3 tracks on offer show off this heavier feel well. The album kicks off strongly with “Ringin’ In My Head” – and with perhaps a prophecy come true? According to guitarist Ben Wells elsewhere in this issue, the album’s opener was written way back in 2017 but the lyrics are eerily accurate for 2020 although almost certainly not for the reasons intended! “Again” has that perfect blend of hard-edged riffing, an instantly memorable melody, and the signature Black Stone Cherry energy. “Push Down & Turn” is modern sounding ‘Cherry with a harder edge that certainly retains their winning formula structure-wise.
“When Angels Learn to Fly” does it’s best to lull the listener into thinking that the heavier start has been put to one side – but no, “Live This Way” kicks straight off with one of the heaviest passages of ‘Cherry you are likely to hear this side of Mammoth Cave, Kentucky. “In Love With The Pain” and “The Chain” (no relation to the Fleetwood Mac song!) give the listener some time to recover without letting up on quality, before “Ride” hits you squarely between the eyes with an absolute belter of a track that is one of my favourites on offer.
No ‘Cherry album would be complete without a gig-in-mind hand-holder / waist-squeezer (have I invented a new term there?) song and as always they hit the spot – I dare any couple at a future gig not to hold each other a little tighter when they play “If My Heart Had Wings”!
Black Stone Cherry love a cover – “Can’t You See” from Between The Devil… is superb and one of my favourite tracks live, and I think they may have hit the spot again with a great rendition of “Don’t Bring Me Down” by Electric Light Orchestra. It avoids being cheesy and finds the perfect balance between authenticity and putting a new stamp on a classic.
One thing the guys from Kentucky certainly are is distinctive and consistent in their sound – so at first, I thought I had rolled onto another band for a few moments when “Some Stories” kicked in – I love this intro, so damn cool. It’s these moments that keep you coming back for more listens, which in turn lead to more little sonic discoveries all through this great record.
“The Devil In Your Eyes” is similar – in fact, both this and the previous track could easily justify an earlier spot on the album, but then again – these are the perfect rewards for listening to an album in full rather than just the odd single as is so easy and almost the default these days. Album closer “Keep on Keepin’ On” is an upbeat affair, and hits just the right note to make you want to press play from track one again.
Nothing beats seeing Black Stone Cherry live in the flesh, and it seems we will likely have to wait quite a few months for that to happen – at least in the UK – but this superb album will keep old and new fans happy for the time being.
Turns out then that I really should not have worried about that disclaimer – this is a stunning album, another fitting entry into the Black Stone Cherry canon. 2020 may, if memory serves correctly, be the first year that the better half and I have not managed to see the band in the flesh since 2008, but this release will make sure that we book our spot for 2021 when we can have our next ‘Cherry hug moment…
Black Stone Cherry – The Human Condition – is out now via Mascot Records.