[ALBUM REVIEW] Black Stone Cherry – Family Tree


Bad Habit
New Kinda Feelin
Carry Me on Down the Road
My Last Breath
Southern Fried Friday Night
Dancin’ in the Rain (featuring Warren Haynes)
Ain’t Nobody
James Brown
You Got the Blues
I Need a Woman
Get Me Over You
Family Tree

Reviewed by Casper of Rohan

Seventeen years together as a group, the four constant and founding members of Black Stone Cherry are poised to release their sixth album, Family Tree through Mascot on April 20th.  Lets just pause a moment and reflect on how rare and special this band really is.  Seventeen years together, doubtless with all the highs and lows that life places in all our paths, and that road must be many times more difficult with the pressures of performing, recording and time away from loved ones, yet their resilience remains unfaltering to this day.

If you have been fortunate enough to spend some time with the band you will have a limited understanding as to why this may be the case.  After many public chats and time spent together in more private encounters, I know John Fred, Jon, Ben and Chris to be humble, well mannered, kind, generous and sincere people of the first order.  Maybe it’s their Kentucky upbringing, perhaps the environs of real world life in small town Edmonton or simply that these guys are just genuine rockers doing it all for the love of music and humility is part of their appeal, but which ever is closest to fact, they are the family who plays and stays together.  No one could possibly argue that the long days spent in the practice house that graced the cover of their last album Kentucky, listening to their kin in the Kentucky Headhunters, with concert posters form past masters keeping out the cold along the walls and windows, were inducted from birth into the greater rock and roll family.

The music has always carried the hallmarks of truly great, blues infused southern rock but delivered with their own unique style and their many influences have been present every step of the way.  The last release from Black Stone Cherry in extended play Black To Blues is testament to how deep the rock and blues heritage runs in their very souls.  Now the real truth is that news of any recording from Black Stone Cherry causes cartwheels and back-flips in the hallways of Silver Tiger Media, with hoots of glee, hollers of excitement and the odd “damn y’all” in celebration, so without me over frying the twelve secret spices, it’s time to let this homage to rock forefathers to speak for itself.

John Fred taps the intro and immediately the Black Stone Cherry lads are thrashing us with raw rock and roll with Bad Habit.  Keeping to a solid initial tempo and killer groove that has you strutting around proudly declaring that this music is your bad habit but hold on to your truckers hat, because a short bridge from Ben suddenly shifts into a perfect backing accompaniment to a soaring solo and then we are back, breathless and bewildered.  Yup, one track in and you can just feel that Black Stone Cherry have managed to produce another killer album, but bigger, louder, harder and, if it was at all possible, better than anything before. You simply must love the personal touch of leaving some studio ‘smack’ in the audio.  Superb.

Burnin’ is a beautifully written and executed track in its own right, but there are extra dimensions to enjoy, not least of which is that this amazing track contains seamless style shifts and I count at least six identifiable elements of vintage rock classics brought together as never before.  NEVER.  The guitar contributions pull emotion from your chest, Jon is magnificent providing the bass rhythm in perfect harmony with the shifting temp and John Fred provides utterly captivating drum work and how the lads reigned him in from taking off on his own will require some discussion.  Then there’s Chris vocally entwining the rock heritage into every single note, with reverberating notes and breathtaking emotion.  Wow.  This is only Track 3, right?

New Kinda Feelin’ is every bit as impressive as the first two offerings but the incorporation of piano sets the bar to a similar height, but in an alternative style.  This is indeed an exploration of, and homage to the music that has influenced the band members entire lives and throughout their journey together.

OMG some bongos to usher in Carry Me Own Down The Road brings an interesting mental picture of John Fred and his wicked grin and a WTF even sullies forth, but before long he’s at the kit and killing it.  No trash fallin’ down the stairs here.   With that to one side, the track itself is astounding in structure, might of sound and overall appeal.  The roller-coaster melody takes your breath away and before long you are experiencing riff ridden brilliance but when you have listened through, been astounded and have time to compose yourself, listen again but isolate you ear to just Jon on the bass, then just John Fred the drums, Ben’s guitar lines, then Chris’s guitar work and vocals, and you will have an idea of how each of these rock masters has contributed individually to such an unbelievable sound.  Even on its lonesome, a masterpiece.   Although that sentence describes the entire album, this song allows us a glimpse into another dimension of the Black Stone Cherry magic.

My Last Breath is introduced with the keyboards and highlights Chris’ magnificent voice alone, but the lyrics, oh my god the lyrics and delivered so powerfully.  As the band join in to this gem, dedicate this song to whoever is your everything, bring them close, force the lump in your throat to behave and struggle to sing along without shedding a tear or two.  Just fucking amazing. That’s all.

Southern Fried Friday Night will be THE anthem for weeks end anarchy, however you celebrate, but don’t ‘prime the engine’ with too many bourbons or you’ll struggle to scream the chorus without stumbling, staggering and turning it into one long incoherent, dribble spitting blurt of celebration with one fist punching the air aloft.  Keep an eye out…you’ll see them soon hahaha.  Thank you Black Stone Cherry.  Now, PLEASE, PLEASE as you approach 2.06 minutes and are rocking your brains out to this anthem of Friday celebration, southern style, HOLD ON TO SOMETHING SOLID because the solo intro and what follows is going to blast you into the stratosphere.  Wow, just wow. A staggeringly sensational mid album rocker.

The count in and cowbell to Dancin’ In The Rain provides you with the reminder that we will soon be able to experience these tracks live and loud, but don’t let the title see you caught off guard with this number.  You’ll be seeing no ‘brolly wielding, twinkle toes skipping joyfully though puddles here.  This is raw rock and roll performed at its very finest, with structural shifts managed skillfully and breathtaking work from all but solos, riffs and bridges you have not heard since Led Zeppelin.  Seriously.

Ain’t Nobody is equally mind blowing as all before and I cant wait to discover who is wailing their way so brilliantly through the backing vocals.  Five minutes plus of rock n roll central with every ounce of guitar string used, abused and left busted on the floor.  Love the volume reduction ending and the final notes on what is likely the last string to go…ping.

James Brown….Oh hell, yes it is, but I’m going to leave this one to the listener. Hold on to yer hat.  You Got the Blues ensures you wont for long, Need A Woman indeed has the ‘the devil peeking through your eyes’ with this magnificent track in celebration of youthful that exuberance and exhilaration we all feel for life. Musically it is killer stuff like all before, but with a style and swagger all its own.  There’s a little Creedence in here, a sprinkling of Lynyrd Skynyrd and even some Hendrix manifesting himself in modern musical magnificence, but all BSC in their unique style honouring past masters.

Get Over You is an upbeat downer that will blast you from the blues and have you up, because this track is less a sad tale in first person perspective and more about blues music and its very own journey.  At around 2.08 we travel into a very different song entirely and it is my belief that Black Stone Cherry pay homage to the very beginnings of blues music, at a time that most prefer to leave in the quiet, hidden annals of history that we would prefer not to talk about.  But as I believe is beautifully demonstrated here, the foundations of blues music had an undeniable and lasting effect on rock throughout its development and remains entwined in the contemporary.  If anything at all beautiful could come from such terrible events in history, it is surely the musical influence still alive and well today.

In a sequencing stroke of pure genius the title track is left until very last and it is a soaring, swooping celebration of multigenerational rock music and how it has it has affected the music of our maestros. Very Led Zeppelin in style and sound but listen to the lyrics and let them sweep you away in honour of those whose music have shaped styles, our music, our tastes and our world.   An amazing finale.

With every track you can help but wonder how the next possibly get any better…and then it does exactly that. Family Tree is a treasure trove of rock heritage delivered the Black Stone Cherry way, but at their best yet.  This astonishing collection redefines exploration of musical influence and entwines decades of rock together into a contemporary salute.  This is a benchmark album in anyone’s language and must have pride of place in all collections. In already a year of outstanding music, the likes of which I cannot recall, Black Stone Cherry have set a new standard of brilliance.  This collection is utterly astonishing and belongs at the top of your 2018 shopping list for musical magnificence.

You can pre-Order Viva La Rock on itunes here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/family-tree/1341758276

Physical Copies available: https://www.mascotlabelgroup.com/black-stone-cherry-family-tree-webstore.html