Arena rockers give masterclass in arena rock

There aren’t many bands that we Brits took to our hearts as quickly as we did with Black Stone Cherry back in the mid-2000’s. That brilliant album propelled them into big venues almost straight away, and pretty soon afterwards soon they were in arenas.

The picture might be somewhat different in other parts of the world, but with a new label (“Kentucky” is their first album for Mascot, the home of artists like the King of blues Joe Bonamassa), the four piece, who admirably have stayed together even as they enter their second decade, have regrouped for album number five, and decided, largely to do what they do so well.

The word “largely” is apt here, because while its unmistakably a BSC record, and its unashamedly big, there is perhaps a darker, and dare we say, more grown up feel to things. The opening riff to “Way Of The Future” the album’s opening track, is almost Black Label rather than Black Stone, then it’s opening lines of “wake up, hope you don’t get shot/step out, hope you don’t get robbed” rather point out from the off that this is a record with weighty concerns at its heart.

What it is also, is an album that has a slightly more raw feel than the recent polished efforts. “In Our Dreams” is more akin to the BSC of 2006, but adds an enormous chorus born out of the confidence that only comes with a mastery of your craft, “Shakin’ My Cage” merrily boasts a riff the size of a wrecking ball, and the dirty, tribal blues stomp of “Soul Machine” is a fists in the air thumper that is arguably the best thing they’ve done in years.

Knowing their game inside out has helped the band experiment, but only either their own boundaries, “Hangman” is another built around a strident riff, but “Cheaper To Drink Alone” is a souped up Southern shaker and is akin to The Cadillac Three on steroids.

“Kentucky” is a well-constructed and muscular affair, “Born To Die” is a thumping discussion of the human condition, and the giant ballad “Long Road” is for one purpose only: to get thousands all over the world thinking it’s their song.

Only once does the record veer to froth, a cover of Edwin Starr’s “War” that loses its good intentions in a sea of bluster, but at its best it’s very, very fine indeed. The last song, the acoustic “The Rambler”, is the starkest turn, exploring their country side and ends up recalling Steve Earle, as it tells its sad story.

It’s this kind of light and shade that marks the collection out as something to add to their legacy rather than just cement it. Arena rock is in pretty good hands as long as Black Stone Cherry are about, because they rather good at it.

Rating 8.5/10