Friday, September 24, 2010

Album Snap Judgement - Black Country Communion

I hesitate to call this a review, because I really haven't dug into the album in a intense way. I downloaded it on release day, this past Tuesday, and given it a few spins. I'm talking about Black Country Communion, the self-titled album from the latest "supergroup" attempt.

As I noted when I heard about this project, I was immediately interested.

The more I read, the more skeptical I got.

Thing about it is, and what made me a bit wary was, as stated in the band bio, it's "the brainchild of producer Kevin Shirley." Kevin "Caveman" Shirley is a really, really solid rock producer. He's worked with everybody, Rush, Aerosmith, The Black Crowes, and he was hand-picked by Jimmy Page to work with him on the Led Zeppelin catalog remasters. The guy knows how to craft an album, and make it sound huge and full. However, I'm always leery of a producer pulling the reins on a rock project, conceptually. Yeah, yeah, you can bring up Sam Phillips or Phil Spector, but you also have Lou Perlman.

See, I've been on record as being quite taken with some of the "supergroups" that have emerged in the last couple of years, but the thing that Them Crooked Vultures, Chickenfoot, and even Tinted Windows, had was a sense that a bunch of guys, who enjoyed each others company, decided to get together and do a record. There's something organic and real about that, no matter how the public took it. The members seemed to be having a great time together making music, that was infectious, and short-circuited the usual "supergroup" problems.

The first reaction I had to Black Country Communion was that this was a very serious project. That it was somebody trying to create a force in the classic rock world, and finding the elements (i.e. musicains) that would make that work. It's not a loose, "fun" record. Now that doesn't make it bad, but it also invites criticism that, say, Chickenfoot sails past because they're clearly just enjoying themselves.

The band is absolutely unimpeachable in it's talent. On guitar and vocals we have Joe Bonamassa, a highly respected and successful blues/rock player. Glenn Hughes is also on vocals, and bass. He's been in bands that are considered British rock royalty, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, and others. Derek Sherinian was the keyboardist for Dream Theater for several years, and has played with Alice Cooper, Kiss, etc. Jason Bonham had a self-named band in the 80's, has played with Foreigner in recent years, and, oh yeah, his father was legendary Led Zeppelin drummer, the late John Bonham. (Jason sat in for his father on a few occasions with Zep.)

Now, these may not be household names...

Not than Hughes doesn't act like it in his bio..."The Voice of Rock?" I'd think of Mick Jagger, Robert Plant, or even Paul Rogers first, Glen. Hell, you're not even the first singer you think of when your old bands come up, or even the second, in the case of Sabbath.

...but they have made an impact with the music fans Shirley is aiming for. Folks like, well, myself, who gravitate towards the blues-based hard rock of the 70's. These four guys are great musicians, Shirley is a great producer, of course I'm going to listen. Bonamassa, alone would have made me give it a spin. The dude is a monster.

What I can say is that the playing is exquisite, the songwriting solid, it sounds great, technically, but also seems without spark. I can't say, with the exception of the first single "One Last Soul," that I was moved to sit up and pay attention to any of the tracks on this record. Sadly, it feels, overall, like four consummate professionals brought into a room to play, and pulling it off swimmingly. Yet, I didn't really feel like there was a connection between them, that intangible, immaterial thing called desire.

I can't, and won't, write off this record. I think there's stuff here to dig into, and, like I said, these guys can play the crap out of their instruments. As a pseudo-musician, that's worth exploring, but I never, ever felt the hairs on my neck stand up. Not like I did with, as the most recent example, The Sword's Warp Riders. What's maddening is that you KNOW these guys are capable of it, and I wonder if it would've happened in a more organic environment.

I'll be spinning it some more, and post a fuller review if my opinion changes.


  1. I saw the band at their secret gig in London on Monday night and let me tell you, brother, these cats have more soul and chemistry than a busload of preacher men.

    Kevin Shirley is like the 5th member, however, the fact that he wasn't even at the gig, and the band still managed to sound even better than their debut album, is only a testament that this could very well be sign of even bigger things to come.

  2. I'm certainly willing to have my mind changed on this, Cucumber. There's a reason I called this a "snap judgment." I'm also more than willing to give props to the musicianship on display, but I can't say I'm feeling that chemistry you saw on the record in an immediate way.

  3. I was reading an interview with Jason Bonham this week. The interviewer asked if he had any Spinal Tap stories from his life. I was thinking about that dad is a dead drummer. Can't get much more Spinal Tap than that.

  4. How are you feeling about this album now? It's been out a few weeks now. I actually ordered a physical copy from Amazon and my order arrived on September 25(anniversary of Bonzo's death). I like it but don't love it. It seems like TOO MUCH GLENN at first. I thought they should have mixed up the vocals a little more between Joe and Glenn. Derek Sherinian seems like an afterthought. His Hammond B3 is buried in the mix. Jason's playing is good. But, I've been following his career for awhile and nothing blows me away.

  5. Truth to tell, my opinion is pretty much unchanged. I've tried to listen to it through several times, and I just kinda get bored. There's a few really great tracks, but also several that just sort of meander and don't feel like they have much drive to them.

    I dunno...Maybe they're better live.