Black Stone Cherry
Well, they finally did it. After nearly a decade of being hailed as the new kings of southern rock, and receiving favorable comparisons to Zeppelin and Skynyrd, western Kentucky's Black Stone Cherry have released an album that's worthy of all the praise.
I've always liked the IDEA of Black Stone Cherry. I mean, what's not to like about a bunch of good ol' (young) boys flying the rock 'n' roll rebel flag? I was a bit lukewarm on the band's actual music, though. BSC always sounded more like Alice In Chains with a twang than any of the classic-rock heroes people seemed so eager to compare them to. Southern-rock poured through a thick filter of down-tuned grunge. Black Label Society minus the showy guitars and pretend biker-gang ethos, if you will, or maybe Stone Temple Pilots dressed up in overalls and a stars-and-bars shirt (that analogy owing in part to Chris Robertson's drony Weiland-like vocal style). I wanted to like BSC, and checked out every new release, waiting for them to break out. If they could just put together a whole album of songs like "Hell And High Water," "Soul Creek" or "White Trash Millionaire," we'd be in business.
With their fourth album, Magic Mountain, Black Stone Cherry have finally made the record I'd been hoping they would. The band's essential sound hasn't changed: the guitars are still tuned low, and Robertson's voice is still a deep baritone. But the band has managed to convey a real sense of fun and tunefulness that was sometimes lacking in earlier material. And they're able to maintain that spirit and high level of quality throughout Magic Mountain. The melodies are stronger, the songs are catchier, and the overall performance is just better than on any previous release. You listen to the guys harmonize on a song like "Peace Pipe," the thick, soupy guitar leads of "Holdin' On...to Letting Go," or the heavy thump of leafy-green celebration "Me And Mary Jane," and it just restores your faith in this band, and of young people (i.e. my age or younger), who came of age in the postgrunge era, to make rock that really rolls, without sounding self-consciously retro. Even the dreaded Fucky Effect can't derail a pounding party anthem like "Fiesta Del Fuego." On the mellow side, "Sometimes" goes beyond the trite shrink's-couch whining of their contemporaries, and the predictable together/forever, remember/December lyrics of their own past ballads, instead reeking of genuine emotion.
There's really only one stinker in the bunch, and it comes in the form of "Hollywood In Kentucky," an attempt at a lighthearted "country checklist" song. This is a trope well-known to listeners of pop-country, but may not be as familiar to hard-rock listeners. Basically, it's just a rhyming list of all the things you might see and do outside the city-limits sign. Food, front porches, outdoor recreation, pickup trucks, and church usually figure prominently in these kinds of songs, as well as a kind of defensive belligerence. Like, "You think yer better'n me?!" They're predictable and stupid, but a certain type of person never seems to tire of them, and so Nashville keeps barfing them up. Black Stone Cherry knows this, but they do one anyway, and even include a line about how we all need to lighten up. But I don't wanna lighten up about a song that contains lines like these: "You'd open up a truck door takin' out your lover / She might be your cousin but she wouldn't be your lover." So what are they saying, that incest is preferable to homosexuality? And later, "Every pair of boots would get a little muddy / Your ass would get a job if you ran out of money / ... if Hollywood was in Kentucky." Note to BSC: research the percentage of your home state's population collecting some form of welfare. (Hint: it's pretty high, as states go.) But you wanna know the weird thing? As pandering as the lyrics are to the lowest common denominator, it's still an enjoyable little tune musically, and when they kick into a triple-time jam at the end, like bluegrass played with hard-rock instrumentation, you can't help but smile.
PITRIFF RATING - 88/100 - It's so nice to be pleasantly surprised by a new release. You check it out for the four or five good songs, and it turns out, almost the whole damn thing is a good listen. Black Stone Cherry seem like a totally likable bunch of guys who came up the hard way, and it's hard not to root for them. I'm glad to say Magic Mountain is the album I'd always hoped they would make.