A Kentucky Fried Helping of Rock and Roll

Black Stone Cherry’s most recently released album “Kentucky” opens with a strong Southern Rock vibe, and then sadly deteriorates into an intolerable mess.

Black Stone Cherry is a Southern Hard Rock band that was formed in 2001, in the city of Edmonton, KY.  The band, with its original members; Chris Robertson, Ben Wells, Jon Lawhon, and John Fred Young, were signed to Road Runner Records in 2015 as their first major record label deal. “Kentucky,” the band’s fifth installment to their studio album collection, was produced in association with Mascot Music Productions and was released on April 1, 2016.

The Way of the Future is an incredibly guitar heavy song that is driven by heavy handed bass lines and a supportive drum line. Black Stone Cherry’s first song on their newest album hits the mark for a solid Southern Rock song.

In Our Dreams is a similarly paced song as The Way of the Future. However, the song’s composition is left with the listener wanting more. While the song retains the same guitar styling as the prior song, there are numerous portions of the song where it sounds as though there was a motorcycle in the recording studio at the time of the song being recorded. As the song progresses, it features a lackluster set of lyrics that create pauses and unnecessary breaks in the song’s tolerable background track.

“Kentucky” follows these two acceptable openers with three almost unlistenable tracks; Shakin’ My Cage, Soul Machine, and Long Ride.

Black Stone Cherry’s fifth song on the album, Long Ride, is a well composed and mixed song. However, the fact that there is a ballad in the first half of a thirteen track Hard Rock album makes it incredibly hard to listen to so early in the album.

With the first third of the album completed thus far, Black Stone Cherry introduces their cover of War, originally composed by The Temptations and then re-released by Edwin Starr in 1970.  Black Stone Cherry takes a notoriously mellow track that was meant to be an anti-war song, and adds a painfully harsh vibe that sadly makes the song overly aggressive and the opposite of what it was originally meant to be.  While other bands have had success with covering songs from previous eras of music; for example Carry on my Wayward Son covered by the Hard Rock band The Showdown; this rendition falls flat. Black Stone Cherry’s vocalist, Chris Robertson, gives War a tolerable set of vocals, but the supporting ensemble is overly distorted and poorly mixed.

“Kentucky” opens the second third of its album with Hangman, which arguably the best song on the album. With heavy riffs, strong vocals, and a spectacular backtrack, Hangman embodies what this entire album should have sounded like.  Many bands often try to experiment with new stylistic choices on their albums so as to find out how far they can take their music before their fans start to question them.  In all truthfulness however, often times it is the proven formulas of past successes that lead to more success for a band, while it is often experimentation that causes them to fail. One such example of an experimentation based failure is the band Dirty Heads, when they tried to switch their music from a surf music vibe to that of a more electronic sound.

Cheaper to Drink Alone is a sort of Pop-Country-Rock mix that simply doesn’t fit into this album, with its overly repetitive vocals and a stereotypical backtrack for a Southern Rock song from the twenty-first century.  Combining both of these aspects, Black Stone Cherry’s eighth track comes off with more of a Nickleback appeal, which no one really wants.

Rescue Me is a fantastic song that brings some life back in to this rollercoaster of an album. Rescue Me opens with an operatic rendition of the chorus and quickly transitions into a powerful—- Hard Rock song that leads into what would be a strong close for the album.

Unfortunately, that strong close doesn’t carry through to the next two songs on the album are much weaker follow ups to a solidly written song. Feelin’ Fuzzy and Darkest Secret are poorly composed and mixed; vocals and back up tracks are occasionally hard to hear in both songs, and the lyrical tracks are hard to hear over the much louder musical overtones.  Both of the songs choruses are questionable at best, with weak lyrical choices that simply seem to provide weak breaks in what are otherwise solidly written lyrics.  Of course, both of these songs couldn’t seem to escape the revving background motorcycle track favored on this album.

In a sort of redemption, the last two songs on “Kentucky” are strong finishers for Black Stone Cherry.

Born to Die is a fantastically written and composed Southern Rock song, reminiscent of what is one of the band’s most popular songs, White Trash Millionaire, from their 2011 album “Between the Devil & the Deep Blue Sea.” Born to Die opens with slow broken chords and a strong, driving set of lyrics that flow and harmonize well with the wonderfully mixed backing instrumentals. Black Stone Cherry’s twelfth song is one that certainly doesn’t disappoint and makes the listener wonder why the whole album didn’t follow the pattern of what works for their music.

The Rambler is a slow ballad to wrap up a definite roller coaster of an album.  Black Stone Cherry’s final song is what sounds almost like a tribute song for their hometown in Kentucky with lyrics such as “A million miles from Kentucky, but I will always be around.” Definitely one of the better songs on the album, The Rambler”was a strong choice to end Black Stone Cherry’s fifth album.

While there are several questionable songs on “Kentucky,” it is obvious that Black Stone Cherry is experimenting with their music in what seems like an attempt to mature from the image of their band from past albums.  Should the band stick with strong songs such as Hangman, Rescue Me, and Born to Die, they will go far in their career.  However, it would be a nice change of pace to hear more songs from the band similar to The Rambler on future albums.  All in all, Black Stone Cherry is a great band that seems to be trying to figure out where they want to take their music in the future. This album may have had its shaky moments, but altogether this was a very solid album.  This album receives a rating of 4/5.

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