The arrival of warm weather here in the UK could not have been timed much better to coincide with the release of Family Tree, the latest album from Southern rockers Black Stone Cherry. If you looking for something to go with that BBQ you bought as soon as the sun appeared then look no further: this is the kind of weather Southern rock was made more, whether it’s outside in the garden or driving along with the windows down (a fanciful notion for us UK residents, but sitting in traffic with the windows down doesn’t have the same ring to it). Black Stone Cherry have been steadily growing in popularity until they can now comfortably sell out arenas to hordes of eager fans. What began as a heavier, radio-ready take on the Southern rock sound has since developed into the band paying tribute to their forebears, most notably with last years collection of covers Back to Blues. Family Tree promises to continue this homage with a much more traditional, bluesy sound than previous albums.
The contrast in sound between this and the last album from BSC is instantly noticeable. Last time around the aim seemed to be for fat, drop tuned riffs, big choruses and an overall darker theme. This time around the crowd are more likely to start dancing than moshing. This is most certainly not a criticism. The harmonised guitar line than starts off album opener, Bad Habit, is an instant catch and a strong reminder that a simple riff with attitude and groove can speak volumes. The chorus is a little underwhelming, but still addictive and you find yourself humming along in no time (a common theme with this album). A couple of tracks later and New Kinda Feelin’ sees a piano added to the mix, playing short stabbed chords behind the guitar line that adds a real old-school rock ‘n’ roll feel. The help of a passing gospel choir is enlisted when the pace is slackened for the first ballad, My Last Breath, before the fun is ramped back up for the slightly tongue-in-cheek Southern Fried Friday Night: ticking all the boxes for mentioning rednecks, bourbon and the like. To seal their credentials, BSC also get a guest appearance on both vocals and guitar from Southern Rock legend Warren Haynes on Dancin’ In The Rain.
One of the things you can generally guarantee with a BSC album is solid guitar work and they have taken it to the next level with Family Tree. The sound is a lot less heavy than previous albums but is much wider and gives each guitarist more room to breathe. You can clearly pick out the two guitar parts to each song, which gives a more authentic edge to the sound that lets you appreciate the solos and twin-guitar that little bit more (listen to the interlude in Burnin’ for a great example). Not to mention the abundance of groove laden riffs… As much as I would like the say that all parts of a band are equally important, it is the guitar work that is the icing on the cake for this album, marginally ahead of Chris Robertson’s vocals and lyrics. My only slight disappointment is that the title track, Family Tree, seems an odd choice for the final song of the album. Lyrically, it is a perfect fit, wrapping things up with a homage to their roots. However, musically it is a much more sombre affair (one of two downbeat songs on the album). It is less energetic, less fun and creates a more serious tone. I always like albums to end on a high and, while a good song, I just feel this would have been better placed earlier on in the track list.
With their boots planted firmly in the Kentucky dust, Family Tree shows that Black Stone Cherry can produce the goods to stand shoulder to shoulder with the very bands they pay tribute to. While the Southern Rock sound is nothing new, BSC have put their own distinctive mark on it. If you are not already a fan of this kind of music then then this could be a strong contender to convert you: there is an upbeat energy and feel-good attitude on show that is infectious. It is best enjoyed out in the sun with your tipple of choice, so hurry up before we lose this good weather.
Family Tree is out today and you can order it here.