Monday 9 October 2023

Black Stone Cherry - Screamin' at the Sky (2023)

Country: USA
Style: Hard Rock
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 29 Sep 2023
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This is a frustrating album for a reviewer, because it's hard to say anything substantial about it. It's difficult not to like Black Stone Cherry, especially when they come storming out of the gate with an energetic title track and maintaining that level of intensity for much of the album. Out of Pocket is a tease of a song because it falsely suggests that they'll soften up for a track; it softens just a little for verses and then ramps right back up to that same intensity level again. Everyone in the band is giving it their all, including new bassist Steve Jewell Jr., who became the first line-up change in the band's twenty year history when he replaced Jon Lawhon in 2021. Every song sounds good.

However, that does not necessarily translate into this being a great album or even a good one, just not a bad one. I might have enjoyed every track on this album while it was playing and just as much on a fourth time through as a first, but I also promptly forgot them all after they were over. This is the commercial release equivalent of walking into a club, enjoying the band on stage for however long they're on stage, then walking out and realising, as we sit down for food somewhere else that we never caught their name and we don't really mind because the magic was in the moment and is never going to translate to buying an album.

This will make Black Stone Cherry fans happy, because it's another dozen slabs of intensity to join a string of seven previous albums worth of them. They're not varying their formula or adding newer elements to their sound; they're just adding more songs to their discography. And that's fine. AC/DC and Status Quo have been doing that for years, to name just two bands, and nobody's stopped being an AC/DC or Quo fan because they continue to play to their fanbase. This may not be the best album they've ever released but it delivers the goods.

The catch is that it delivers the goods and wanders off again. Last time out, with 2020's The Human Condition, the first couple of tracks stood out as highlights. I'd be wary of calling out anything here as a highlight, because it's much of a sameness, like the rest of that album. What it comes down to is whether we connect as individuals to a particular riff or a particular hook. Maybe I could suggest that When the Pain Comes stands out a little for me, but it might not for you because it isn't doing anything special. Maybe you'll connect instead to the shouted chorus in Who are You Today? or the groove on Here's to the Hopeless or something in any one of the others on offer here.

And that's about it. This is very much an album for the faithful, I think. Chris Robertson's voice is a special one, as it always has been, adding oodles of soul to an already southern rock drenched hard rock delivery. The guitarwork of Ben Wells and Robertson again is a highlight too, but it's also kept on its toes this time by a very prominent rhythm section. Jewell provides a very audible bass that I think might take over on those extra-deep sound systems that carry through neighbourhoods from pickup trucks and John Fred Young seems to be hitting his drums even harder than usual.

I'm going to go with a 6/10 for this one because it simply refuses to stick for me. It's clearly capable stuff and, oh look, a blue fish. This is energetic background music for me that I can enjoy but easily walk away from to do something else too. If you're a confirmed Black Stone Cherry fan, then add a couple of points to that rating because you'll love it. If you haven't heard them before but any one of these tracks finds its way to your ears on YouTube and sticks in your head, then add one point as they might become your new favourite band. Anyone else, then just move on past. This one won't do anything for you.

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