Album Review : Black Stone Cherry – “Family Tree”

Review by Peter Coates

Black Stone Cherry are still Chris Robertson (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), Ben Wells (lead guitar, backing vocals), Jon Lawhon (bass guitar, backinisg vocals), and the brutal John Fred Young (drums, backing vocals), and this 6th studio record sees the band repeating the production duties in the Barrick studio in Glasgow KY, where they had first recorded in back in 2003. In addition Chris handled the mixing of this record, and has done a fine job of it.

As per usual, there are the lucky 13 songs on the record, which were rehearsed and recorded in a spontaneous fashion, and there is a casual looseness and really comfortable feel to the recording which pours through the speakers, and the more listens the album has had, the more elements to the songs I am picking up. There are a whole host of subtle touches, from sizzling guitar licks to the varied and always excellent backing vocals, funky horns, gospel organ and honky tonk piano, all of which add layers and colour to the songs.

Opening with a ripping guitar riff and drums, Bad Habit is a prime slab of BSC groove-rock, dripping with innuendo, that has something of an Electric Boys funked-up feel to it, with a hugely catchy chorus that morphs into a downbeat mid-section and wailing solo, before kicking back into top gear through another chorus to the close.

The first single Burnin’ has already been out on video, and features an intense southern boogie riff over the driving rhythm section, and a pure BSC chorus, as well as a tasty piece of guitar harmonisation from Ben and Chris. A mix of a ZZ Top riff crossed with Motorhead, and some barroom piano kicks off New Kinda Feelin’ which has a few of the typical touches in Chris’ distorted vocals in the pre-chorus and sitting in the background through the chorus, which lends the song a bit of a raucous edge.

A homage to 1970’s Americana southern rock’n’roll, with hints of Molly Hatchet and The Allman Brothers among many more, the band have a ball with Carry Me On Down The Road, tight as can be, with pin-sharp drumming from JFY and some unexpected guitar licks thrown in to the accents, as well as another quality solo. A gentle organ intros My Last Breath with some heartfelt vocals from the main man, before the band kicks in with the main verse, and this becomes a joyous and upbeat ballad, with some glorious ‘gospel-girl’ backing vocals – the lighters will be held high if they play this one live, particularly in the call and response vocal breakdown!

It all starts to kick off with the ball-tearing classic-in-the-making of Southern Fried Friday Night – a hard rock country blues rocker that could take over from White Trash Millionaire as the live-show favourite, featuring all the things we love about the band – crisp tongue-twisted lyrics, Ben’s voice-box guitar work, rowdy backing vocals and powerhouse drumming.

This slides right on in to Dancin’ In The Rain which has a mean, moody feel to the riff, and features one of the boys’ early influences, Warren Haynes from blues jam-band Gov’t Mule who brings more of that looseness to the swampy-delta blues riff with a guitar and vocal cameo that fits perfectly. Ain’t Nobody is another southern country groover, with a heavy dose of soaring backing vocals from the ladies that adds to the feel of this one having being recorded in a late-night session, with the studio packed with a few friends after a big night out! An oddball vocal loop opens James Brown which is straight out of the BSC playbook of swampy, dirty funky blues-rock, updated with a few new features, and an immense middle-eight set of riffs and blistering solo, before the stripped-down chorus kicks-in, leading to the closing section which is one of the heaviest segments on the record.

Another sleazy riff starts up You Got The Blues which is simply a glorious slice of everything we love about the band, and features another very special guest in Chris’ 5-year old son contributing to the backing vocals (hopefully not the “mother***king blues” line). I Need A Woman is a swaggering stomp of a song, powered along by the drums, with a ridiculously catchy hook-line in the chorus, and a double-barrelled solo from the boys.

Get Me Over You is one of the slow-growers on the record, with a definite feel from the 1970’s influences the band grew up listening to, which deserves a special listen for the wah-wah guitar work in the background, and the main solo, before it transforms into a Santana-like percussion-driven segment leading in to the final chorus and fade-out.

You sometimes get a nothing of a track at the end of an album, but title track Family Tree is anything but a filler. This is something really special, and could be the defining one on the album, the showcase of the various southern blues and country rock influences which the guys have managed to blend into what has become the unique southern rock sound of Black Stone Cherry.

There is nothing quite like this track on any of the prior records, and it brings a spine-tingling feel and goosebumps at the first listening, which fails to reduce at the next 5 or 6 plays. The track sees some cracking Hammond organ, and some excellent bass-work from Jon in addition to the multiple layers of the guitars from Ben & Chris which from my side could have gone on for 4 or 5 more minutes in the solos, and given the guys something of a Green Grass High Tides or dare I say it Freebird moment.

The album is released through Mascot Records on April 20 th 2018, and should be a must for all lovers of quality southern rock, country fuzz, blues rock and all points in-between.

Track Listing:
1. Bad Habit
2. Burnin'
3. New Kinda Feelin'
4. Carry Me On Down The Road
5. My Last Breath
6. Southern Fried Friday Night
7. Dancin' In The Rain
8. Ain't Nobody
9. James Brown
10. You Got The Blues
11. I Need A Woman
12. Get Me Over You
13. Family Tree

BURNIN’ video :

More Black Stone Cherry articles…