I see Gene Simmons likes to sensationalise his observations, like his 'rock is dying' prophecy, and while I'm not going to dismiss his claim, I really do think he needs to take a step back and reach into the big beyond. What he's been saying might be raising a few eyebrows, but I think in reality you really to look out beyond the front door step to see the welter of rock talent that's out there waiting to take a well deserved lend of the ear. And trust me, there is just that. It might be an easy name to roll off the tongue, but Black Stone Cherry I'm guessing is one that in rock echelons is going to be overlooked maybe a little too often. From what I've seen so far however, BSC won't bow down quietly.
Or disgracefully for that matter.
So, the foursome. All hailing from Edmonton in the Bluegrass State of Kentucky and their many influences of Southern and Hard Rock appear to include Lyrnyrd Skyrnyrd. Now while I've not witnessed them live, it's my generally held conception that lead singer Chris Robertson won't go as far as draping the Confederate Flag on his microphone stand. It's all a bit politically tense these days in the very PC world. Musically they're comparable with Kings Of Leon, but if I had to choose between the two acts, BSC would get my vote anytime given my initial appraisal of Magic Mountain, their fourth album. In their formative years, they were opening acts for their better known peers like Whitesnake and Def Leppard, and I can guess that most of their write ups is inspired by them.
So, my initial reactions of Magic Mountain? Agreeable and catchy is my spontaneous reaction, and a rock of gusto and vigour is the hors d'oeuvres from the word go, from Holding On...To Letting Go. The impact in the track is with the well thought out beat structure, catchy chorus, with a change of rhythm midway through before it's back to the original beat. Memorable I thought, then it's Peace Pipe, where the tempo eases up a touch, but the Southern Rock guitars and Robertson's gravelly but very mature vocals keep the whole thing ticking over nicely. Bad Luck And Hard Love, like the two preceding tracks is just as notable. There's some Cream style wah wah pedalwork introduction and Mr Robertson is just as comfortable hitting the high B flats and a little beyond as well. I'm also enjoying his storytelling in the Deep South.
I don't know who their target audience is, but then Me And Mary Jane follows the usual hard rock format with a little voicebox thrown in as a little spice, but maybe 25 years earlier, and this would've been a winner among more impressionable followers. Nevertheless, it's another meaty offering from the KY quartet, and then we have Runaway, it's a bit more relaxed although it does threaten to be nothing more an agreeable filler. Thankfully, the title track comes in, Magic Mountain which prods my senses all too discreetly, I'm really enjoying the narrative, the change of notation between verse and chorus. So far the best track on the record, but next track Never Surrender comes damned close with some reaching hollers a few times and stoner riffs, and just as noteworthy.
Midway through Magic Mountain it's garnered at least 5 marks from me, and the momentum continues with Blow My Mind, possibly a drug filled narrative but still as academic and not hard to interpret. Then, an acoustical turn with Sometimes, and for me, it's kind of a deathbed memory. Starts off with a nylon string number, followed by some celtic drumming, and there's what sound like psychedelic guitars in the backdrops as a little pep. Back to the hard rock order with Fiesta Del Fuego, another frenetic stoner although the Van Halen closeout does put a very interesting spin on things.
Onto track number 11, Dance Girl, which is a slight disappointment. The chorus and riffwork aren't bad but not exactly a world beater, then it's a major an improvement with Hollywood In Kentucky. Bit of a fusion of Beach Boys, Country and Western and such a spectacular piece of narrative of what it's like to live in the Bluegrass, but any thoughts of drawing similarities to Nickelback's Rockstar you can dispel as this isn't anywhere near as cliché ridden as that crap. I understand the C & W crescendo was written by the Warren Brothers, probably as nothing more than an amusing "let your hair down" piece. Final track is Remember Me and it's a reasonable closeout showpiece as you'll ever, but what I find intriguing is the No Quarter-esque electric pianos, very John Paul Jones but still not uninventive.
Having heard Magic Mountain at least four times, it's fair to say that I needed to concentrate hard on the content and see what Black Stone Cherry has to offer the keen listener. However, 13 four minute tracks is a tad excessive and could easily pass as a double album for them. Regrettably, this is the chief reason why I'm not giving it full marks as this as a rock album I could easily identify as a classic. By the same token, it's certainly a very mature well written rock piece from the Kentuckians and I actually prefer them to Kings Of Leon as they're not afraid to put in a little extra pep beyond the guitars and drums format.
It may have been a helluva drop into cold water for me from listening to metal all year, but Magic Mountain is one of the most rewarding rock albums I've heard in 2014 and certainly one of my votes this year for Album of The Year. Keep watching and reading....
8.5 out of ten. Oh, now you have my attention, and maybe my money, time and heart.
Best track : Magic Mountain
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