Black Stone Cherry – Between The Devil & The Deep Blue Sea (2011)

Posted: May 24, 2011 in Music

With summer fast approaching, it’s time to find that ultimate album that has all the ingredients for every barbeque, late-night bonfire, or long-distance drive that comes with the season. The ingredients are just as important as the cocktail itself. The album must be filled with catchy hooks and loud, open guitar solos, the occasional ballad for the ladies, the fist-pump-inducing hard rock for the fellas, and enough of a groove to keep the girls shaking the things that girls shake.

Such past albums include Van Halen’s Diver Down, to – more recently – Kid Rock’s Rock and Roll Jesus. Anthematic rock that not only defines the “take it easy” attitude, but becomes the soundtrack to what most consider the best three months of the year.

This year’s first qualifying CD is from Kentucky natives Black Stone Cherry. On this, their third release, the band find themselves doing what they do best – delivering southern-fried rock and roll that’s groovy, sexy and hard, yet maintains a radio-friendly accessibility similar to such acts as Nickelback and Buckcherry.

But what separates Black Stone Cherry from the rest of the crowd is the blues-influenced country twang that carries most of their tunes. It’s in your face most of the time, but kisses your cheek and makes you smile when it’s all said and done. Not that anyone would really want that kiss. These aren’t the pretty-boy rockers you grew up with – they’re a little dirty, mildly greasy, and a bit unkempt. But unless you’re still hanging a Bon Jovi poster in your bedroom, looks don’t really matter in rock anymore – it’s all about delivering good music.

Between The Devil & The Deep Blue Sea definitely delivers. Pounding guitars and catchy choruses immediately make their presence felt on the opening track (and first single) “White Trash Millionaire.” You instantly lose yourself in images of fast muscle cars and even faster women. The vibe continues through the next track, then eases off the accelerator a bit for the first ballad of the album “In My Blood”, a track that while slower in style is lyrically as heavy as anything else on the album. The song spins a story of a man who just can’t help being himself – right or wrong. It’s absolutely relatable to anyone who has difficult decisions to make on a daily basis. It’s as strong as a ballad as you’ll hear this year – and I’m guessing you’ll be hearing it a lot.

The album shifts back into first gear for the next track “Such A Shame,” heavy with guitars and an interesting chorus that gets the head bobbing up and down again without heading into a full rock frenzy, which is a good thing as the band softly applies the brakes again for the second ballad on the track “Won’t Let Ago,” a love song in the truest sense. While it didn’t have the catchiness of the first slower song, it was a fine piece. Perfect for refilling your beer.

I call these tracks ballads, but maybe that’s a mistake. They still have the guitar crunch and rhythm that make it solid rock songs, they just aren’t the heaviest songs on the album – so maybe “soft rock” would be a better term. There is nothing soft about the next track “Blame It On The Boom Boom” With it’s slide guitar sound and “yeah yeah yeah” background vocals, it’s obvious that this is the best party song on the album. The lyrics are what you’d expect – sleazy and sexy. I could easily see this song being the biggest hit off the album – after all, who doesn’t like a song about sex?

“Like I Roll,” the albums seventh track, was highly reminiscent of a John Cougar Mellencamp song – rolling guitars and positive-message vocals. A great sing-a-long track in its own right, But it was during this track that I realized something was missing on this album that had been a strong point on previous releases. Black Stone Cherry had always had a southern-blues style (and they still do), but what happened to the gospel vocals and organs? Here we are half way through the album and not a hint of the baptist/revivalist feel that peppered their first two albums. Maybe times have changed. I suppose it’s not really taking anything away from this album if it took me seven tracks to notice, so let’s move on.

The middle of an album is a strange place to put in a cover song (those are usually saved for the end of an album or as “bonus tracks”), but the band’s homage to the Marshall Tucker Band’s 1977 classic tune “Can’t You See” fit perfectly here. The band has been performing this track live for years, but not until now do we get a studio version.The slight twists the band included to make it their own had me returning to this track over and over.

So after absolutely nailing a song written 35 years ago, the band gives us one that may well be popular 35 years from now – at least at your local gentlemen’s club. I can’t imagine a stripper anywhere not working out a pole routine to the sexy style of “Shake.” It pulls no punches in its intent – a strip club anthem for the ages – and it’s surprisingly one of the albums catchier tracks. The solo near the end is the best one on the album as well.

In the track “Stay” we finally get the closest thing we’re going to get to a ballad. The song has a very somber feel to it, and lyrically falls somewhere between a break-up song and a suicide note. I liked the song and its message, but found it a bit sobering from the rest of the album’s atmosphere. I guess it’s okay to put down that whiskey ever now and then and get serious, though.

The “serious” tone hangs on for one more track with “Change.” Never thought I’d here Black Stone Cherry throw a political song out there, but this high-energy rocker slips you a mickey with the questions of “when is the change coming?” Undoubtedly a song fueled by the current state of affairs in America – and honestly, who can blame them for asking.

The nightcap on this album is the bluegrass-inspired “All I’m Dreamin’ Of” – a perfect send-off for the listener. A simple reminder that no matter how good or bad things are, they will always get better. While it lacks the rowdy, keg-pumping energy most the rest of the album had, it was the perfect Tylenol after a long night of drinking, and closed the book on a fun, energetic, and solid listening experience.

Black Stone Cherry have continued to improve their sound album by album, and while producer Howard Benson mastered this album to perfection, its success lies wholly with the band itself. As one of the hardest working groups performing today, it’s no surprise that this album comes off as strong as it does. It sounds care-free while remaining mature, and will be rocking my stereo all summer long. Give it a listen – I bet it becomes you’re summer soundtrack as well…


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