Mascot Records [Release date: 22.09.17]
When Bonamassa walked out of Black Country Communion in 2013, you could have taken long odds on a reunion. Particularly given the relative success both camps have had with their own projects in the meantime.
And yet here we are, barely four years later, with a fourth studio outing that buries the hatchet deep and then swaggers and stomps all over its resting place.
BCC’s first three studio albums fizzed out of the studio with indecent haste compared to the overlong gestation period that many platters take. Together with a live album release and regular touring, maybe there was always a strong risk of burnout and over commitment.
Whatever the reasons, the hiatus has done wonders for their creativity. This album rattles with energy and hums with class.
It is also significant that the writing here is shared more equitably between Hughes and Bonamassa. The former complained that he was left to write virtually all of ‘Afterglow’ by himself. Whilst Hughes has penned the majority of these lyrics, Bonamassa contributes hefty slabs of music alongside Hughes, as well as the words to one song. The result is a set of tunes that rock up, for my money, a significant cut above ‘Afterglow’ and stand shoulder to shoulder with anything on the band’s first two albums.
The overall feel is perhaps a little more polished than earlier outings. Kevin Shirley, the unofficial fifth member, has sprinkled his magic production dust to deliver a coherent, lush sound that still retains plenty of bite and edge. This is cast iron classic hard rock. Beautifully conceived and expertly delivered.
Opener and lead track ‘Collide’ is a great example of the dense riffs that hallmark the album. It is immediately obvious that this is not a Hughes/Bonamassa showcase. Derek Sherinian’s keyboards add depth and contrast here and right through the album. Perhaps more so than on earlier collaborations. Whilst there is still a Zep influence in some of the material, like ‘Collide’ and particularly ‘Sway’, Sherinian’s work makes it much less apparent than on say ‘Black Country Communion 2’.
Talking of Led Zeppelin, Jason Bonham’s drumming just keeps on improving. On the afore-mentioned ‘Sway’ and the brilliant bass-driven stormer, ‘The Crow’ he is thunderous and immense. During his days with UFO, Michael Schenker used to complain that he was too loud on stage. Love it.
Neither has Hughes sounded better. There’s a hint of gravel in the production, but the overriding sense is of power and resonance. ‘Over My Head’ shows off his softer side, tackling a higher register and ‘Wanderlust’ emphasises his bluesy tones.
On the latter, there’s a lovely, mature set up between Hughes’ vocal delivery and Bonamassa for a perfectly judged, languid guitar solo. This is the longest track on the album. It twists, turns and blooms. The playing and writing pieces seem to fit together as if for an ensemble showreel of remarkable talents.
One of the most immediate tracks in this collection is ‘The Last Song For My Resting Place’. It features the only lyric from Bonamassa who narrates the story of the band leader on the Titanic who played passengers off the sinking ship, before he went down with the liner. The track features mandolin and Celtic violin at various points, counterpointed with dark, intense guitar passages, and the inevitable killer Bonamassa solo full of drama and histrionics.
‘The Cove’ also features a strong storyline from Hughes about dolphin massacres off the coast of Japan. His vocal is impassioned and knits together a restrained, down-tuned groove.
There are growers, too. ‘Love Remains’ sneaks up on you with its sensitive lyric, insistent, climbing guitar lines and fuzzed-out solo. ‘Awake’ is a funky little thing, simple in construction and packing a delicious but all too brief keyboard/guitar exchange.
‘When The Morning Comes’ closes the album out in typical style. Another showstopper of acoustic tension, shifting rhythms, sweeping vocals, scything guitar/key riffs and murderous solos. Kitchen sink. And why not?
Well, there’s no sitting on the fence with this one. It’s a belter. Form is temporary, class is permanent. *****
Review by Dave Atkinson
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