I can still remember a time when hard rock bands played music that had a lot of soul, meaning and depth. When the music meant more than the image. When listening to them lifted you up, not brought you down. And when you could count on a fresh new batch of music every year, and yet it didn’t sound like rush jobs.
Black Country Communion reminds me of those times like no other rock band has in the last thirty odd years.
When we last visited them, it was only September of 2010; guitarist Joe Bonanmassa, bassist Glenn Hughes, keyboard player Derek Sherinian and drummer Jason Bonham released a debut album of all-new material mere months after announcing the formation of this supergroup. Unlike most supergroups that fall short of mighty expectations, BCC delivered on the promise, easily making the Mainstream Best of 2010 list as the only hard rock entry.
This band provided the right vibes for anyone who loves the classic hard rock sound of the 70s, from Boston and Led Zeppelin to Hughes’ old bands Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. Evidently, the vibes felt good for the boys in the band, too, because before their first album hit the streets, they were already back in the studio making their second one. That’s the record that releases today in the UK and tomorrow in the States, modestly called Black Country Communion 2. It’s an accurate label, too, because it could have easily been Disc 2 of the first record. That’s my assessment in a nutshell, but I’ll elaborate, anyway.
The members of BCC don’t dress extravagantly or look so outlandish; they have a meat-and-potatoes image. Not that any of it matters, but it speaks to their music, too: there are zero gimmicks with this crew, just straightahead, head thrashing, hook-em-horns rock. If there’s any calling card at all, it’s that they do this kind of music so well. Producer Kevin Shirley, the unofficial fifth member, is behinds the boards again making sure the sound is captured with the technology of today but spirit of yesterday.
Like the first LP, this one begins with a showing off of the massive firepower from all the guns of BCC: “The Outsider” showcases the rumbling bass of Hughes, the authoritative pounding of Bonham and the thrilling unison runs of Bonamassa and Sherinian. Shirley had intended to make sure all band member got “a unique opportunity to shine,” and even more so than the earlier effort, this comes across genuinely like a group of egoless team-oriented crackerjacks. A good start, but the next seven tracks make up the album-spanning sweet spot of the album.
“Man In The Middle” (official video below) is a trick piece of the funk-blues-rock that put Aerosmith on the map, and the band is tighter than the skins of Bonham’s tom-toms. Bonamassa’s menacing riffs, Sherinian’s tactical synth chords add depth to the killing-it pulse of Bonham.
It’s Hughes, not Bonamassa, who is probably the most impressive member of the group, because he is regularly doing two things and kicking ass in both areas. His powerful, high register vocals easily soars over the metal din, and he’s one of the most genuinely soulful singers of the genre out there. At fifty-nine years old, his voice has never sounded better and is still the model for those a third of his age. But the man Stevie Wonder once called his favorite white singer, Hughes isn’t just the Voice of Rock, he’s also a very nimble bass player; his melodic, McCartney-esque lines dancing around Bonamassa’s acoustic guitar on the Bonamassa-sung “The Battle For Hadrian’s Mill” is one example where his low end boosts the polyphony of a song.
“Save Me” sounds like Zeppelin, but unlike other Zep-like songs, this one actually had its genesis with that iconic band. Bonham hung out with Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones for a few months in 2008 following a LZ reunion concert, and it appeared that the band might reform with new material and a tour until Robert Plant backed out. But the younger Bonham brought the tune to BCC and finished it out with them. It’s a real showcase for the drummer, who propels the song with “Kashmir” thunder. Hughes even growls like like Plant in spots, and Sherinian applies the mystical Middle-Eastern feel. Bonamassa, however uncorks a diabolical solo that might be his best of a loaded bunch dispersed throughout this album.
It doesn’t let up after that: “Smokestack Woman,” “Faithless,” “I Can See Your Spirit” and the second Bonamassa vocal feature “An Ordinary Son” are all solid songs that don’t sound alike, and most of the time the band is in overdrive. The slow, aching number “Little Secret” pays its dues to the blues, something Bonamassa knows a little bit about, but the band never abandons anywhere else (“blues-based” is another thing I fondly remember about those classic hard rock bands).
It’s hard to find fault with a band that does everything so well; I suppose you could say they sound more like an amalgamation of some of the best hard rock bands from the day than having a distinct soundprint. But, so what. BCC may not invented any new formulas but they are executing the old ones closer than anyone else to perfection. A second solid record in a nine month span makes Black Country Communion a rare treat of both quality and quality.