If I may, I’d like to begin this review with a thank you.
You see, there are 15 gigs in my calendar for March (I might go to one or two more or one or two less) but when things resumed last year, I wasn’t sure about gigs at all. I wasn’t scared of Covid, but I’d convinced myself that I didn’t want to go to gigs anymore. You do this a lot when you are struggling with depression, you bargain with yourself, convince yourself if you like.
I’ve written about my struggles in other reviews. This isn’t that again, don’t worry. But one day I got a press release saying Black Stone Cherry’s rescheduled gig (one I hadn’t even bought a ticket for the year before) was the following week, and Kris Barras was supporting. The gig was sold out, but let’s not lie here, I know one or two PR people and so it was that gig three of 2021 saw me in the Birmingham Academy.
That night, September 10th, 2021, was cathartic. It was glorious. I am not ashamed to say that I had a tear in my eye when BSC played “Things My Father Said” (anyone who has lost a parent would) and more than that, it reminded me how much I – and forgive the language – fucking love live music.
On my review of the show I wrote of Barras’ performance: “[his songs are] infused with a new…..well, something. A new edge, maybe? Whatever it is I’ll tell you this, wait until you hear “Who Needs Enemies” and tell me you aren’t listening to one of the best on these shores.
Well now you can, and “Death Valley Paradise” is everything those new songs he played that night hinted at. Take the aforementioned “….Enemies”, good grief, this is an arena shaker. Never mind blues rock, this is rock rock. Massive, heavy, unashamed and shiny gloriousness.
Look deeper and everything has changed. The record is produced by Dan Weller (who counts Sikth – one of the most innovative metal bands of recent decades) amongst his work, there’s a new rhythm section and crucially, there’s a load of co-writers. And look at their names and who they’ve worked with: Jonny Andrews (Three Days Grace, Fozzy), Bob Marlette (Alice Cooper, Airbourne, Rob Zombie), Blair Daly (Halestorm, Black Stone Cherry) and Zac Maloy (Shinedown, Tyler Bryant). This is not the young blues rocking firebrand anymore, the one who politely asked me to review his debut album getting on for a decade ago, this is an artist who is fighting to break the shackles.
The opener “Dead Horses”, thunders with such ferocity that you almost expect Audioslave to claim it, “Long Gone” does have a bit of the old primal blues that he’s always had, but I am assuming that no one here is going to be upset if I do a Black Stone Cherry comparison.
The next one “My Parade”, to be honest, was going to be the one the review began with until I decided to tell my truth. This is his, mind you. “I don’t give a fuck what people say, fall into line or get out of my way” is the line that more than anything infuses “….Paradise” because it seems to sum KB up in 2022. Lets be blunt: this change in direction might lose some of the old fans. Let’s be blunter: he doesn’t care.
And that honesty, that integrity shines through. “These Voices” builds to its hook and it sounds like Halestorm, by the way. “Devil You Know” lives up to its hook “we’re not here to be forgiven” with an absolute glee, and it will get fists up in the air on the forthcoming shows.
“Wake Me When It’s Over” is one of two ballads. And its everything a modern rock ballad should be in 2022, if it was an US band it’d be a mega hit – it just wouldn’t be as good, I guess.
Nothing is too long either. “Hostage” will resonate with anyone who can’t stop going back to someone they know they shouldn’t, and is in and out in three minutes, so is “Cigarettes And Gasoline” – another that manages to sound as primal as something from the swamps and as polished as Aerosmith in 1989 at the same time – while the other ballad “Bury Me” very much feels like a companion piece to “Hostage”, and its perhaps the most “blues”, but this isn’t that record, nor was it intended to be.
It ends with “Chaos”. Perhaps the thickest groove here, and the one which made me open the review the way I did. There’s a line in the first verse that says: “I found the enemy at every turn, now here we are” and in singing it, surely Barras is laying his own struggles bare.
The result of the 18 months of scary uncertainty is here. You can either go down with a whimper, or you can come back focussed and with more intent than you ever had. “Death Valley Paradise” is a middle finger in the air statement of the latter option.