Kentucky. For some, it’s simply a fly-over state. For others, it’s the basketball capital of the world. For me, as well as Black Stone Cherry, it’s home. Every album Black Stone Cherry has released has had a song or hat tip to our home state. With their fifth album, the boys finally went all-in and named their album, Kentucky.
Now what does that mean and why the hell should you care? Well, I’ll tell you both. Black Stone Cherry busted out of the gates with one of the more refined and notable debuts in the last 15 years. The band knew who they were and their sound resonated because it was real. It was who they were as individuals. Fans latched onto that raw emotion, their powerful live performances and their Southern roots. To put it mildly, fans couldn’t get enough and the band toured non-stop for what seemed like forever. Over time, and several albums and where a lot of people in suits tried to make changes, Black Stone Cherry had become something that many fans of that debut album didn’t relate to nearly as well here in the U.S.
Enter Kentucky. The band and their sound originates from where? Kentucky. The debut album was recorded where? Kentucky. Hell, even the album art is a photo of their famed “Practice House” and where is that located? Kentucky. Now for me, I know that I’m certainly most comfortable at home, and where is home for Black Stone Cherry? You guessed it, Kentucky. Returning to their roots has been a wish and goal for not only fans, but for the band alike. So to be a bit cliché, all signs simply pointed to Kentucky.
Having said all of that, let’s get to the “why the hell should you care” part. In a world where what’s popular, is a one man show consisting of a button pushing DJ playing to a crowd full of molly-tripping hipsters waiting for the beat to drop, Rock ‘n’ Roll needs a savior. Is Black Stone Cherry that? If the UK is any indication, they very well could be. Only time will reveal that answer.
On Kentucky, not only has the band returned home to their roots both physically and sonically, the band has further embraced who they are and have taken their classic rock vibe with a modern twist to a level that would be investigated for growth hormones, were it in Major League Baseball. Let’s call the post-Roadrunner Records era the steroid era of Black Stone Cherry. Well, maybe not, but you get the picture.
From the first notes on the album, you know exactly who you’re listening to. Black Stone Cherry sounds like no one else out there. It’s really that simple. The groove on The Way Of The Future, not unsimilar to that of their hit White Trash Millionaire, hits you with the familiarity that eases you into your seat for one helluva ride.
Kentucky takes you on a sonic roller coaster that makes its next stop at an underwater world portrayed in the absolutely epic video of In Our Dreams. This song is the first single from Kentucky and a track that continues the heavy precedent the band has set.
I can’t help but jump ahead in my review. I’m so eager to spill the beans about the track, Soul Machine, I just can’t stand it any longer. This song is exactly who Black Stone Cherry was, is, and hopefully always will be. They took several familiar elements, think the picking style of Soul Creek with the added effects of Fiesta Del Fuego, horns, gospel style background singers and a huge chorus. Put them all in the backseat of ’57 Chevy and hit the gas and you’ll get the idea. This song, in my humble opinion, is a turning point in their career. Unbridled from all the limitations of the past, Black Stone Cherry has taken their sound to the next level. As a fellow Kentuckian, I couldn’t be more proud.
The trip continues with the first slower song on the album, which is titled, Long Ride. The song is a needed break from the first third of the album. You’ll need to catch your breath. Don’t overlook this track though, as far as growth in song-writing, this is a shining example of how far the guys have come. Pouring his heart out, vocalist/lead guitarist Chris Robertson delivers one of the more heart-felt songs the band has written.
Next up is one of the most awesome, relevant and heavy covers, that totally sounds like it was written by the band themselves, you will ever hear. Edwin Starr made it famous, Black Stone Cherry made it heavy. War will kick your teeth in. I absolutely cannot wait to be in the crowd for this one. I’ll use a saying that my conservative friend, who doesn’t curse, once said to portray my excitement for this track, “Divine Feces!!”
The heaviness continues rolling in like a thick fog as the Hangman delivers one of the more singable, but darker, choruses on the album. Hangman also delivers one of my personal favorite solos on Kentucky. Harmonies are something most bands have no clue how to do. The first section of Rescue Me proves without a doubt that Black Stone Cherry not only knows how, but their unconventional use of them in the track actually becomes the hook. At first, it’s kind of confusing, but once it clicks for you, it feels totally natural in a weird way. Just listen, and it will make much more sense.
Feelin’ Fuzzy, Darkest Secret and Born To Die are badass. There I said it. Of the three though, Born To Die is my favorite. They’re also great examples of how the band tries new guitar sounds on every record. You can’t and won’t deny that. Crank ’em and enjoy ’em!
The last song on the album. It’s a hit or miss scenario. Some bands are out of material and the last track is weak filler, if you will. Other times it’s reserved for something special, something to leave you clamoring for more and that’s exactly what The Rambler does. In fact, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more beautiful song from Black Stone Cherry. The track was originally written by The Zuni Mountain Boys. Their version is called Radio. The guys from Black Stone Cherry took the track, adapted it to their style and it became The Rambler. Which, in my humble opinion, has the potential to elevate this band higher than they’ve ever been before and as a rocker from Kentucky, that’s music to my ears.
The deluxe version of Kentucky is available on iTunes here.
Kentucky Deluxe Version Track List
1 The Way Of The Future
2 In Our Dreams
3 Shakin’ My Cage
4 Soul Machine
5 Long Ride
8 Cheaper To Drink Alone
9 Rescue Me
10 Feelin’ Fuzzy
11 Darkest Secret
12 Born To Die
13 The Rambler