Black Country Communion (Debut Album)

Review by Bluebird.

Released : (UK and Europe) September 20, 2010; North America (through J & R Adventures) September 21, 2010

Label : Mascot Records

Artists :Joe Bonamassa, Jason Bonham, Glenn Hughes and Derek Sherinian

From the BCC website :

“All songs are sung by Glenn Hughes, with the exception of Song Of Yesterday and The Revolution In Me which are both sung by Joe Bonamassa. Hughes and Bonamassa share lead vocals on the songs Sista Jane and Too Late For The Sun. Also included on the album is a new version of Medusa, the classic rock song that Hughes originally recorded with his first band Trapeze.”

“The Black Country” is a region in the Midlands, England. It got it’s name, as legend has it, because of the industrial iron and steel work practice of coal burning. which made the area buildings and landscape covered with soot. In literature, the Black Country has been referred to as dark by day, but ablaze with flames at night, because that is when the coal burning would happen in the villages.

Read MoreIt says on Jason Bonham’s website that he and Glenn Hughes were born and raised in the Black Country region of England. Jason Bonham (Worcestershire) and Glenn Hughes (Bilston, Wolverhampton). This band, the album and its first track are named after this homeland as a tribute.

This is a return to excellent quality classic rock, album style. The tracks build a music narrative and unfold the BCC talent going from structured and multi-layered to longer songs with specific sections and back to tracks with more predictive pacing. The whole of this album is a massive undertaking for the listener. Explosive power, selective application of restraint, legendary experience designing modern arrangements mixed with familiar blues rock. Enter: Black Country Communion.

Black Country Communion Members:

This album brings together the best of classic rock.

Black Country Communion was created through the vision of Kevin Shirley (a.k.a The Caveman) a music producer and mixer for many artists, such as Journey, Iron Maiden, Rush, Led Zeppelin (DVD), Joe Bonamassa, Dream Theater, Tyler Bryant, and Mr. Big. He saw Joe Bonamassa play the Trapeze song, Medusa with Glenn Hughes on stage and dreamed of a new rock band to be formed with these powerful musicians.

Joe Bonamassa has been playing guitar since he was a toddler and learned to play Stevie Ray Vaughn songs while he was in elementary school. He actually toured with BB King by age 12. A prodigy of blues, rock and his own interpretation of many genres, including acoustic solos, he is quiet master that listeners should discover if they don’t know him already. Oh, and he sings too. He has a warm engaging voice that is soulful blues, tempered and melodic, but can also explode with hard rock intensity.

Glenn Hughes has been called, ‘iconic’ in his presence in rock history. The 1970’s band ‘Trapeze’ integrated his strong bass lines of funk with rock, blues and soul. Hughes’ bass rarely takes the background of any song, yet his songwriting allows for all the band members to show off their best. He brings experience in classic rock bands that were central to the genre in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, and very impressive catalog of solo work. Hughes’ voice is recognizable even to those who have only heard him a few times. He brings power, range and excitement to every song.

Jason Bonham has spent his life experiencing and studying the unequivocal drum work of his father, John Bonham. He has toured with Jimmy Page, supporting the Firm and the Outrider album and tour, as well as the 40th Anniversary of Atlantic Records and the Ahmet Ertegun Tribute in London. At the same time, he was also supporting Foreigner live. He is building legendary status for himself as he integrates his experiences and influences into new works.

Derek Sherinian has a long history of fusion and classic as well as metal rock experience including Alice Cooper and Dream Theatre. He has carved out a name for himself as a progressive metal rock keyboardist, taking on challenging technological pieces, bringing Al DiMeola, Steve Lukather, Yngwie Malmsteen, Slash, John Petrucci. John Sykes and Zakk Wylde to record with him. His flexibility and wide base of experience allowed him to tour with Billy Idol as well.

1. Black Country 2. One Last Soul 3. The Great Divide 4. Down Again 5. Beggarman 6. Song of Yesterday 7. No Time 8. Medusa 9. The Revolution in Me 10. Stand (At the Burning Tree) 11. Sista Jane 12. Too Late for the Sun

The Album:

1. Black Country

This title track has a lead bass line that comes out in force, some fans have said it’s eerie. I think the song is a message of strength and pride for the Black Country region. The lyrics speak for the people and their perseverance. The intensity of the instruments never wavers, either. It is in your face rock solid from the beginning to the end. “Speak to the millions from city to shire.” Mid song, Bonham’s drum sequence is a thunderous double slam that stops and starts with precision, leaving space for Hughes’ strong vocals, while Bonamassa’s guitar wraps around the bass and drums with super flash, crisp solos.

2. One Last Soul

A shorter track with a catchy rhythm and anthem refrain, this song stays with you and is a great choice for radio play. Different from the opening track, it builds the range of the BCC sound.

3. The Great Divide

Lower in the range is the opener of this multi-level song that builds to meet the massive explosions of Hughes’ voice. Joe Bonamassa’s solos carry the song equally and are carved out with precision as to not overwhelm the song.

” … gonna let my freak flag fly” is my favorite line in this song. We think it’s a Hendrix reference, but it might be from elsewhere as others have used this line too. Glenn Hughes jumps deep into the album and they start to mix it up with this longer song boasting a wider range of musical styles.

4. Down Again

I love this song because of its blues references. “I got a brand new thing, gonna kiss my mojo, gonna cure my ill … my caravan … the wind cries in my face … tied and bound to the killin floor ” Howlin Wolf must be screamin along as these threads are woven with updated hints of Hendrix in both the lyrics and the distortion that is starting to creep up into these tracks and others. Caravan is a jazz standard by Duke Ellington. There is deep experience and appreciation for the vast universe of music history here and it shows with these well traveled musicians. If you listen carefully toward the ending, Sherinian does some creative keyboarding and the song melts into a transition phase, which is kind of a cliffhanger into the next track. This song, I think, is a foreshadowing of the rest of the story to be told on this album.

5. Beggarman

This is one of my favorite tracks because of the opening distortion solo by Bonamassa and funky bass line that follows with Hughes. Then Sherinian underlines it all with a smooth, soulful, almost organ piece. I like Hughes’ voice in the lower ranges, when he uses his vocal power at full tilt, but applies restraint. Bonham is quiet and poignant, then parallels the band and their timing is impeccable in this song.

6. Song Of Yesterday:

This song is heralded as a centerpiece of the album by several reviewers and I agree. A masterpiece which should be more widely shared and played on the quality rock stations for sure. I have played this song for many people and don’t know anyone who didn’t love it at first listen. My jazz fan husband loved the power and instrumentation. The opening guitar riff is clear and its echo throughout the song makes it a guidepost as the evolution continues. Joe Bonamassa’s guitar work is majestic and his voice is warm and engaging. The lyrics are raw and tell a legendary story. The effects reflect historic times, “broken castles, flags still flown, like a living ghost.” An epic poem, telling a difficult story, very real for the character narrative and the listener. “Break it down, so low you don’t know where you been, Try a little harder, now you’re the drunk mad man in jail.” Like honest blues, validation of the reality rebuilds the foundation.

And then the song takes literal flight with vocal harmonies from the band that lift and move into a whole different phase of power and glory which gives the song a hopeful ending. The duo of Bonamassa and Hughes brings this communal song to the title impact of this band, the joining together of history to the present.

I posted the album version of it here via Youtube, the live versions are great, but the voices are not always heard as well in the live footage, so here’s the original recording of Song of Yesterday.

7. No Time

The urgency of the lyrics and the constant thrust of this song arrangement match, with some brief breaks for keyboard riffs and distortional sound scapes, as well as harmonizing by the vocals. It is a follow-up of Song of Yesterday, in that there are fewer changes in the phrasing to give the album listener a return to the structured, more predictable phrasing. I love how it just stops on a dime.

8. Medusa

Medusa was originally a song via Glenn Hughes’ early band ‘Trapeze”. On the BCC website, it is hailed as Jason Bonham’s favorite. In an interview for Classic Rock Magazine, by Malcolm Dome, Bonamassa said that Medusa was one of the songs which inspired the idea for a project between himself and Glenn Hughes. Kevin Shirley saw them playing it live at the House of Blues in Los Angeles and suggested Jason Bonham and Derek Sherinian to join them in the project that became Black Country Communion.

The legend of Medusa can have many connotations and the lyrics leave this open to interpretation. The soulful opening and closing vocals, gentle cymbals with accompanying guitar and fluid bass, give way to a forebodingly thunderous wall of forceful bass and guitar jams. This creates the tone of the eerie trans-formative myth regardless of which archive you’ve read. The transcendental beauty is simultaneously a fearful monster. Have you turned into stone yet ?

9. The Revolution In Me

Another story telling piece. The fate of a solider in the fields of Dunkirk, or perhaps the mindset of soldiers from any battle. An understated track, with ancillary solo guitar riffs from Bonamassa and massive timing with Bonham alongside Hughes.

10. Stand (At The Burning Tree)

The jam bash intro is quick to turn to a murmured roll and Hughes is rolling on to a prolific summation of a spiritual journey. There is some interesting organ work by Sherinian with a quick follow-up solo by Bonamassa. The song sort of floats through the album.

11. Sista Jane

This song to me, is classic rock returned. Blues riffs and lyrical references combined with grand slam anthem refrains, building and consistent. I love the shared lead vocals. Each band member strong in his own right, defining their mastery of experience.

12. Too Late For The Sun

A little more slide guitar on this track. I wish it was moved up in the song placement on the album, because I worry some might miss it here at the end. Still it’s a good closing track, but Sista Jane would have been fine as a closer too, I think. The Bonamassa solos with Bonham’s drum accents are the trails that are followed to the autonomous end here. The keyboard filters through making it blend into a soul piece. I think the song runs a little long for the repeated arrangement, but it gives Sherinian the space to play out his piece to a warm fade and sum it all with some cool drums tapped into Bonamassa’s sliding solo piece while Hughes keeps the beat moving. If you hang in to the end, Bonamassa has some wizard-like distortions to offer which make it worth the extra moment of listening time.