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Black Country Communion – 2 (2011) – an album reviewun

January 13, 2012

Sorry this took so long to get done today. Another day of interruptions and life in general.

tl;dr Version: What do you get when you put four generations of rock musicians together into one supergroup and try to make classic rock with a modern edge? Answer: Black Country Communion.

‘Splain, Lucy Version: Okay, this is a tough one, because reviewing a supergroup with a pedigree like this is deceptively difficult.
Glenn Huges, bassist vocalist, has been fronting bands since the 60s, but is best known for his stint in the mid-70’s co-fronting Deep Purple with David Coverdale of Whitesnake fame. It’s not the most legendary line-up, but there can be no denying that Hughes has a distinctive voice and a fantastic touch on a bass.

Jason Bonham, son of late Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham, but most deservedly an amazing drummer in his own right, had a fairly high profile band in the late 80s, and has worked most famously with his late father’s former bandmates on a few occasions, and has an admirable command of drums that for my money makes him both son and heir to the veritable throne, and yet his own man on the kit.

Derek Sherinian has played keyboard for more hard rock acts than you can shake a stick at, including a very distinguished turn on keys for prog metal band Dream Theater, and continues to amaze and impress with his encyclopedic feel for classic rock keys and his ability to get the strangest, nastiest noises out of a synth you’re ever likely to hear on a top shelf commercial rock album.

Which just leaves Joe Bonamassa, the wild card in the deck, whose claim to fame is a frightening knowledge of British Blues Rock Guitar virtuosity. His heroes include Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Steve Howe and certain big American blues rock guitar greats like the late great Stevie Ray Vaughan, who of course worshipped at the altar of Jimi Hendrix. Point being, if you were forming a super group and wanted to work with a new guitarist who had a genuine classic rock feel, you could scarcely do better.

So, what do you wind up with when you mix all of these influences? Well, pretty much exactly what you would expect, though probably not the way you would expect. You see, this band actually works. Really works. They’ve got all the swagger and bombast of Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin, the hooks of The Yardbirds, the sophistication and tone of Cream and Blind Faith, and really, they were pretty much perfect 70s heavy rock right out of the gate.

Before starting the review for the new album, I actually sat and listened to the first album (released in 2010) again, just to get the sound in my ears before diving fresh into their 2011 album, simply entitled ‘2’, following in the venerable tradition of Led Zeppelin’s first four albums, no doubt.

The really important thing here is, don’t come in expecting this to sound like any one album or band you may be pinning your hopes on. It really is an uncanny hybrid of styles and sensibilities, and sounds both achingly familiar and yet entirely unlike anything you may already own.

The Outsider opens with a blistering rhythm and aggressive vocals, with a delivery on guitar that could cut metal and a great little bit in the bridging that gives Glenn a chance to shine on bass. It’s a fairly straightforward set-up, with an extended solo section for hammond organ and guitar to trade licks, drums and bass chugging along at break-neck speed. The instrumental breaks down to a bridge that leads back to the chorus, which wouldn’t sound out of place on a Sammy Hagar-era Van Halen tune. It’s a great opener.

Man In The Middle is another great hard rock tune, bouncing along at mid tempo using a not-so-nice dinosaur guitar/bass riff thick enough to choke a moose. Great stuff, and the chorus has a slightly Aerosmith feel to it. The good Aerosmith stuff, with the crunchy riffs and Tyler being nasty-cool, not the love ballads. There’s a really nice feel to this number, sounding like a very clean, modern Zeppelin tune, particularly with the flirtations with Middle Eastern scales. As a big fan of Moroccan Roll, I approve.

The Battle For Hadrian’s Wall starts off acoustically, which gives the song a nice Zeppelin III feel, even though it’s got a Zeppelin IV-type title. Nice vocal harmonies that just evoke so many great classic rock numbers from Zeppelin, Heart and even Kansas. The song switches up to an instrumental section that shifts time from start to finish, before crashing and cascading, leaving a silence that reopens with a bridge to the outro, which includes slide guitar and mandolin over a great drum and bass line. Joe can pull off a lead vocal quite nicely.

Save Me opens slow and ambient, long passages of slow Fender Rhodes and droning guitar under a casual vocal, and then a great shuffling rock rhythm takes over, resembling a sort of hybrid of Kashmir-meets-Perfect Stranger. Great strings and fabulous drums. The verses have a sort of Whitesnake-doing-Zeppelin thing, and the chorus is perfectly pitched arena rock anthem material. Great guitar solo with some classic playing. Bonamassa is winning me over at last. Returning to the chorus, and then heading into the outro, you understand that the song structures here are fairly conventional, except for the bit where these guys can pretty much smoke three fifths of the other musicians recording these days, and can make even a seemingly by-the-numbers song structure really breath and sigh.

Smokestack Woman is a blustering bullish number with a nice blues rock riff and a classic Deep Purple feel. Swinging and swaggering and talking about a sexy woman, of course. If it didn’t sound so good, it would irritate me, but it does the job, and the organ and parts fit together so nicely, it’s hard to fault them for writing a classic sexy hard rock number to go with it. Another nice guitar solo, demonstrating some really nice technique and flash without forgetting what idiom he’s playing in. Great Zeppelinesque riff for the bridging bits. And then they slip into an instrumental section that slows down and gives a lot of space to make some noise, followed by a return to the chorus and riding it out on that great groove, until it finds an ending.

Faithless is a slinky little number that scales pretty nicely, though it’s in a comfortable mid tempo, using a nice modal progression that eventually carries you up to a pretty relaxed chorus that gets a nice vocal performance from Hughes. The second chorus is accompanied by a symphony of synth string, which is just gorgeous, followed by a bridge to the instrumental, which has another really fine guitar solo, accompanied by that bank of swirling string section that just keeps climbing up and up. The final chorus repeats and takes us out to a great bit of drumming under the army of strings and guitars.

An Ordinary Son opens quietly, ride and guitar, followed by relaxed bass, and then it settles into a bit of a tribal rhythm that leads up to a great, almost Bad Company-like chorus. Nice bridge back to the verse, Joe’s nicest vocal performance so far. Great groove on this one. Perhaps a little longer than it needs to be. Can never manage to get through a blues rock album without at least one long, flabby track, and though this is a good track, it’s flabby. Probably sound a lot better if I were stoned. It sounds like it would be a great pot tune. Rock ‘n’ roll ending.

I Can See Your Spirit is the love child of ‘The Ocean’ and ‘Rock and Roll’. Flat out. It’s got that riff at the start going slightly faster than the original, but it’s there, plain to hear. It’s got a cool, slightly odd structure to it, but the bridge is cool, and the instrumental has a pretty excellent guitar solo worthy of any guitar hero you can name. Derek gets to kick in with a great Hammond organ solo, which reminds us what a great and largely underused player he really is. Crunchy finish.

Little Secret is the slow blues tune of the album. You can’t miss it. It travels at the speed of ‘Babe I’m Gonna Leave You’, and makes no apologies for being as slow rolling as the Mississippi in January. Very tasteful playing. Joe’s guitar cries quite convincingly. The second instrumental is even more in the mold of those old Zeppelin slow blues numbers, including ‘I’m Gonna Crawl’ and ‘Ten Years Gone’. Big slow blues rock close. Nice, and ends just about on time.

Crossfire starts with some synths and effected guitar headfaking you, while the drums and bass build up a nice head of steam, and then the main riff kicks in and your head falls off. That a good enough analogy for you? Crunchy riff for the verse, bad ass, and the chorus continues in the same vein with some interesting chorused vocals and pumping organ chords. They sneak in a little Steve Howe riffing for the bridge, and then they’re back to the head punting riff. Very meaty track. The bridge out of the chorus leads to a return of the Howesque guitar noodling doubled, followed by a true guitar hero solo with all the sweat and gristle of moose sausage. Great keyboard in the outro, reminiscent of Carouselambra or some vintage Journey.

Cold is the closer, and it’s got a pretty respectable groove, slow and easy, lots of space for the guitar to wail plaintively, followed by some bridging business to the verse using more of those strings. The groove is familiar to me, but I can’t quite place it. It’s classic eight bar blues rock, but it’s quite evocative and the chorus has an epic anthem feel. Then we jump into an instrumental passage with a wall of guitar and keyboard playing like guitar, bridging sweetly back to the verse. Glenn does a little more wailing going into the chorus, but the chorus itself gets a little more heroic vocalizing as the song heads into a rock guitar solo section where Joe once again gets to demonstrate some superior chops tastefully. One more bridge to the chorus, and I’m thinking to myself that, despite the tempo, this song is taking just about as long as it ought to, which to my mind is a great sign. Slow synth string pads and guitar for the outro. Gorgeous finale.

Now, despite my positive rundown of the songs, I’m still not quite in love with this band, but they are growing on me, and I’m looking forward to the next album, which Glenn is writing for and says should be out for the summer tour. If the next album is, as he says, a continuation from what he has done so far, then it should be an enjoyable record. If he should happen to shake things up some more, however, it might just prove to be a great album. As for this one, your hard rocking friends will dig it. Get it for the kid who just discovered Led Zeppelin and is convinced that no good music is being made anymore. Get him Them Crooked Vultures while you’re at it, if the kid has any interest in Cream. Multigenerational super groups are proving to be an exception to the rule that supergroups are always over indulgent and overproduced. This album comes pretty close to the line, but it has some sublime moments, well worth listening to a few times.

© 2012 Lee Edward McIlmoyle

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